COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- State Sen. Eric Kearney says he's leaving the Democratic ticket in the race for governor.

The Cincinnati Democrat has faced questions over hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal tax liens against his business which publishes the Cincinnati Herald.

"it’s undeniable that this has come to be a distraction from a discussion of the vital issues facing Ohio, and the choice voters must make in this election," Kearney said in a statement. "The stakes are too high: we need a change of leadership to move Ohio in a new direction that puts more Ohioans back to work and builds a better future for our children."

Kearney says after discussing the issue with FitzGerald both decided the best course of action was for him to step down and focus on his work in the Ohio Senate. The decision comes about three weeks after he was announced as FitzGerald's running mate.

FitzGerald tapped Kearney, a Cincinnati lawyer who is black, because of the racial and geographic diversity he brough to the ticket. Kearney also has direct ties to President Barack Obama, who is a friend.

FitzGerald now has to select a new running mate. Two names that were mentioned before Kearney was selected are Rep. Tracy Maxwell Heard, the current House Minority Leader and first black female to hold that post and Columbus City Councilman Zach Klein.

FitzGerald faces Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is seeking re-election. Libertarian Charlie Earl has also announced that he's running.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)