"I loved Ophelia...forty thousand brothers could not, with all their quantity of love, make up thy sum." - Hamlet, in the Shakespeare play of the same name.
There once was a popular superstition that the Ford family of Memphis had a monolithic hold on Democratic politics in the inner city. Despite some isolated election results that might have disproved this, some Memphians still believe it. The fact is, as the recent mayoral filing by 27-year-old Isaac Ford
suggested, there is not even a single party line within the family itself. That fact was newly demonstrated at the Election Commission Wednesday by the picking up of a petition for the County Commission by Ophelia Ford
Ophelia Ford is the sister of Harold Ford Sr
., the family patriarch, and of several other Ford brothers who have been active politically - including former city councilman Joe Ford
and current councilman Edmund Ford
. In 1999, she was beat to the punch by brother Edmund, who filed to succeed brother Joe, who would run an unsuccessful race for mayor. For a while, they were both candidates, but eventually Ophelia yielded to her brother and withdrew.
Not this trip. Since the death last month of Dr. James Ford
, a member of the Shelby County Commission, the supposition in the family - and in the political community at large -- has been that Joe Ford would run to succeed his brother. Indeed, Commissioner Michael Hooks Sr
. made a moving speech at the next commission meeting in which he said in effect that it had been one of Dr. Ford's dying wishes that brother Joe Ford succeed him on the commission.
Sister Ophelia scoffs at that. "It was extremely poor judgment for Michael to go public talking about our deceased brother's wishes. We don't need Michael to tell our family what our wishes are." So she picked up a petition to run for brother James' District 3, Position 1 seat as soon as the commission had resolved all district boundaries and it was legal to do so. She thereby beat brother Joe to the punch this time, and that was no accident.
"I'm borrowing the style of my younger brothers," explained the 51-year-old Ophelia, who said she had been trying to get into government since at least 1984 but had found herself -- a jilted soul like her namesake in Shakespeare's Hamlet
-- in the position of deferring to one brother after another, sometimes being taken by surprise after she had confided her ambitions. Brother Joe, for example, had picked up and filed his council petitionin 1995 after she had first expressed interest, she said.
"This time they
can read in the paper," said Ophelia, who quoted Joe as having informed her of his unexpected filing back then by saying, "Oh, you must not have read the paper!"
Reasoning that it was better to sandbag a sibling than to be sandbagged, Ophelia explained Wednesday, "I didn't tell any of my family members I was going to pick up a petition." She maintained,however, that "I had told most of my family members that I was going to go for the next ting available, especially after he [Joe]messed up his stuff with the mayor's situation. I'll be interested to see what reaction is."
(Joe Ford might indeed have been taken by surprise; he was doubtless looking in the other direction, for a threatened primary challenge from family political rival Sidney Chism
Ophelia Ford's decision to go for the Commission seat followed several months of waiting for another brother, State Senator James Ford
, to abandon his own seat. Ophelia maintains that brother John had expressed a sense of weariness with continued service in the state Senate.
"If I don't get in this time, I'll probably relocate," said Ophelia, who - ironically or not - had expressed chagrin at the recent decision of nephew Isaac, a son of of Harold Ford Sr.
and brother of U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.
, to run as an independent for mayor,thereby breaking an emerging family consensus for Democratic mayoral candidate A C Wharton
Ophelia Ford has worked in the fields of public relations, communications, and product development with a variety of enterprises. She is a veteran of service with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, radio station WLOK, the Memphis Board of Education, Memphis Area Legal Services (where she was an aide to Wharton); and the family business, N.J. Ford Funeral Parlor, where she is an accredited undertaker.