Wednesday, March 13, 2002

A STATEMENT BY REP. FORD -- AND A RESPONSE

A STATEMENT BY REP. FORD -- AND A RESPONSE

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2002 at 4:00 AM

Though still not formally a candidate for the U.S. Senate , U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. continued Tuesday to look into preparations for such a race but issued a statement late in the day drawing clear distinctions between his own electoral intentions and those of his uncle, State Senator John Ford, who has indicated he will seek the 9th District congressional seat when and if his nephew chooses to vacate it.

Rep. Ford’s statement reads as follows: "I have no intention of designating or supporting any member of my family, especially Senator John Ford, for the 9th Congressional seat should I decide to run for the U.S. Senate. I was brought up to know that Congressional and, for that matter, all political seats belong to the people, not a family. The people of the 9th Congressional district have blessed me -- and my father before -- to represent the district for three terms. And if I decide to run for the U.S. Senate, I hope that I am judged by my record and words, and no one else's. "

The Flyer --or, to assume the right degree of responsibility under the circumstances, I -- reported on State Senator Ford’s intentions of running for the congressional seat this week in the context of its reflecting a consensus within the Ford family, and, while the basic information in our report came from a source who has proved unusually reliable in the past, we have no desire to take issue with the congressman or to dispute his statement. We will take him at his word. It is certainly possible that in this case we have been misled.

Certainly Rep. Ford will be running his own race, independently of any other, and we would absolutely agree that not only should he be judged by his own “record and words, and no one else’s,” his career has made it clear that he always has been so judged, both by the general public and the media reporting on him.

Moreover, unlike his father, former Rep. Harold Ford Sr., the current congressman has not made a habit during election seasons of publishing and distributing sample paper ballots recommending to voters his own slate of choices.

We would go further and acknowledge instances of intra-family diversity like the current Shelby County Commission race featuring two Ford siblings -- Joe Ford and Ophelia Ford -- vying for the same position, or the several cases in the past, notably the 1994 Shelby County mayor’s race, in which the positions of members of the family -- in that case, John Ford and brother Harold Ford Sr. -- conspicuously and widely differed.

Even so, the Ford political clan would not have held the offices it has over a quarter-century nor continued to enjoy the influence which it does without a striking degree of solidarity, and that fact is the rule rather than the exception.

It is well known, for example, that former city councilman Joe Ford, now an interim county commissioner , was formerly regarded as the family’s preferred candidate to seek the 9th District seat in the event of the sort of senatorial vacancy which has now taken place.

The former congressman and clan patriarch, Harold Ford Sr., openly acknowledged as much to friends and intimates.

Indeed, there is much speculation at the moment, particularly in light of Rep. Ford’s most recent statement, that Joe Ford will in effect switch races and himself become a candidate for Congress in the event of the current’s congressman’s making a senatorial race.

There are some who have interpreted Rep. Ford’s statement as not only a denial of an understanding with his uncle but as an explicit repudiation of State Senator Ford. Perhaps they are right.

Perhaps Rep. Ford, who has spoken with his family’s erstwhile political nemesis, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, and asked for the mayor’s support of his senatorial bid, is especially intent on assuring the mayor of his neutrality concerning a prospective 9th District race.

Perhaps, as Rep. Ford's statement suggests, he has renounced as undemocratic any idea that the family's nearly 30-year presence in the 9th District congressional seat is the basis for any kind of claim.

Perhaps State Sen. Ford, who has made no secret in the last couple of days -- both in Memphis and in Nashville -- of his desire to run for Congress, has floated a trial balloon of his own that was wafted in our direction under false colors. Perhaps he or our principal source, or both, were themselves the victims of a misunderstanding. Or perhaps there is still more to all this than has so far met the eye -- or been contained within the terse formulations of a press release.

Whatever the case, Rep. Ford should know that, in our experience, he has never been affected one way or another, for better or for worse, by the perceived public reputations of any of his near relations.

This fact attests to a unique quality, persistently noted (if not totally accounted for) by the national media, and to a special momentum that together have brought him to the current pass, to the brink of a Senate race whose outcome no poll or demographic fact could possibly predict and no fact of blood relationship could conceivably inflect.

If he flies, it will be because he, like the bumblebee, is meant to fly , not because of any of the usual standard measures of such things.

(See also 'Going For It,' a companion article.)

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