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Ex-Ohio Department of Health head Dr. Amy Acton leaves philanthropy to explore Senate run

Amy Acton, Mike DeWine mask
Posted at 11:44 AM, Feb 04, 2021

Dr. Amy Acton, who led the Ohio Department of Health through the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic, will leave her new philanthropic post amid swirling rumors that she plans to seek Sen. Rob Portman’s vacant office in 2022.

Acton announced the move Thursday, confirming she is exploring a possible campaign but has not yet committed to running.

RELATED: Rob Portman says 'partisan gridlock' helped him decide not to seek reelection to Senate in 2022

“In recent weeks, there has been much speculation about my possible interest in running for the United States Senate in 2022,” she wrote in a statement. “Many Ohioans have shared with me their concerns and the daily challenges they face. They have expressed a need for a new approach that can help them, and their communities thrive. I am humbled by the outpouring of interest and support. For that reason, I am stepping down from my role at The Columbus Foundation in order to carefully consider how I can best be of service at this crucial time.”

She added: “Whatever my decision, I know with absolute certainty I won’t stop working to provide healing and hope to all Ohioans.”

Acton was the director of the Ohio Department of Health when the COVID-19 pandemic began and appeared daily at Gov. Mike DeWine’s televised news conferences, where she shared case data, explained epidemiological concepts like “flattening the curve” and encouraged Ohioans to remain dedicated to the long fight ahead.

FROM APRIL 2020: 'People at home, you are moving mountains' — but it's not time to stop, Acton says

Hers was also the signature on early health orders closing schools, mandating many business closures and instructing Ohioans to stay at home unless travel was necessary.

Between March and June, when she would resign and take on a less visible role in DeWine’s COVID-19 response, she attracted admirers who praised her calm, reassuring, plain-spoken tone in news conferences and vitriolic critics who accused her of overextending her authority.

Some families sent pictures of their daughters dressed up in lab coats. Others picketed outside her home in Bexley, Ohio. Republicans in the Ohio House of Representatives passed a bill to limit her power, only to have it nixed by the Senate and strongly rebuked by DeWine. The Toledo Blade ran an editorial in her defense.

She resigned June 11, transitioning first to a behind-the-scenes role in DeWine's administration and then to The Columbus Project, a nonprofit community foundation. Her would-have-been successor at ODH, Joan Duwve, accepted her job and quickly retracted the acceptance after learning about the threats and harassment Acton had faced.

When asked Thursday whether he would support Acton's candidacy, DeWine — a Republican — said: "I'm going to stay out of Democratic primaries."