Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill O'Neill has had a storied career. Decorated Vietnam veteran. Emergency-room nurse. Ohio Supreme Court justice.
And on the campaign trail he's a jovial presence, mocking his opponents while pushing for legalized pot to raise money to fight the state's opioid crisis.
But he's also faced his share of embarrassment and controversy: from a Facebook post about 50 lovers, to calling protesting football players "draft dodgers" more than a generation after the draft had ended to facing questions about whether his free-flowing campaign is even a serious.
O'Neill's candidacy generated controversy even before he left his old job on the Supreme Court. On Oct. 29, he announced his candidacy and then he stayed on the bench until Jan. 26. That provoked criticism that to avoid ethical conflicts, O'Neill should have resigned before mounting a campaign for another office.
O'Neill attempted to finesse the issue, arguing that he wouldn't legally be a candidate until he filed his petition of candidacy and any attempt to constrain what he said about a run "is in direct conflict with the Ohio Constitution’s guarantees of free speech."
The other members of the Supreme Court didn't buy it. The court moved last month to change its rules to require justices to step down before declaring a run for partisan elective office. In response, O'Neill jokingly says he'd be proud for people to call it the "O'Neill rule."
But he wasn't laughing in the aftermath of a Nov. 17 Facebook post in which he said "in the last fifty years I was sexually intimate with approximately 50 very attractive females" and all but named two of the women. O’Neill said he wrote the post to defuse what he sees as media "hysteria" over sexual harassment allegations against then-U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota.
The backlash the post provoked was widespread, bipartisan and intense, with multiple calls for his resignation. O'Neill's initial response was defiant, telling his critics, "Lighten up folks."
He quickly changed his tune. Within a day and after remonstrances from his daughters and other women in his life, O'Neill deleted the post and apologized. He has regularly repeated those apologies on the campaign trail.
"On the second day, I thought this is not something I should be doing," O'Neill said in an interview Thursday.
But beyond the backlash, it's not clear what he thinks was wrong about the post. O'Neill, 70, was pressed three times on the matter, but didn't answer directly, saying the post wasn't something for what he wanted to be remembered.
Three months earlier, in August 2017, O'Neill made another controversial post relating to Cleveland Browns players taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police violence against blacks.
"I will NEVER attend a sporting event where the draft-dodging millionaire athletes disrespect the veterans who earned them the right to be on that field," it said. "Shame on you all. William O'Neill, LTC, US Army, Retired. Vietnam veteran; son of a World (War) II veteran; proud father of an Iraq veteran."
The draft ended 44 years ago, so no 2017 NFL player would ever have had even the chance to evade it. O'Neill responded by saying 18-year-olds still must register for the draft.
O'Neill was asked about the message the players were trying to highlight — that blacks are disproportionately the objects of police violence. He said he agreed with them, but disagreed with how they chose to say it.
"It's a great message, but it's an inappropriate delivery method," O'Neill said.
He also was asked how taking a knee disrespects the flag or U.S. troops.
"I have relatives and friends who died under that flag," he said, adding that the appropriate way to respect if is to stand with a hand over one's heart during the anthem.
Despite his opposition, O'Neill said he would never do anything to prevent a player from taking a knee at a football game — other than just stay away.
"What we have here are competing First Amendment rights," he said.
O'Neill has presented himself as an outsider, initially declining to be vetted by a state Democratic Party that he says is biased against him. But he relented in January, after paying off $4,300 in past-due state taxes.
Having been vetted, O'Neill has been allowed on the Democratic debate stage, where he's been an entertaining presence. In Toledo last month, he referred to former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray as "Sir Richard" in an attempt to imply that party leaders were trying to anoint Cordray in advance of the May 8 primary.
But aside from appearing at debates, forums and the like, it's unclear how active O'Neill has been on the campaign trail.
He convened a staff meeting late last month at the offices of investment adviser and marijuana advocate Alan Mooney, who uses the honorific "Sir" after being knighted by Pope Benedict XVI into The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. While other candidates were keeping grueling schedules, O'Neill told his staff he wasn't busy enough in the campaign.
"It's something we've been falling down on because I find myself every once in a while when I end up my call time at four o'clock I realize I'm not going anywhere tonight," he said. "If I knew what was out there, maybe I'd cherry pick."
O'Neill insisted Thursday that his was a serious effort to become governor. He said he put 13,000 miles on his car in two months and added that the real governor's race hasn't yet started.
"It'll start about three weeks out," he said, noting that he won statewide Supreme Court primaries so he knows what he's talking about.