Jake Ford's Attacks on Family: Both Physical and Verbal 

Perhaps, if Harold Ford Jr. goes on to win his U.S. Senate race, he will deserve special congratulations for his forbearance through the circumstances of the past week – one in which opponent Bob Corker not only zeroed in on the 9th District congressman’s family but in which one member of that family, brother Jake Ford, graduated from obstacle to albatross.

Confirming rumors that have abounded in political circles for weeks – and that intensified after last week’s first congressional TV debate, Jake Ford held a downtown press conference to confirm that in his late teens and early twenties, while living in the District of Columbia, he had been arrested several times – for offenses ranging from marijuana possession to Driving Under the Influence to assault upon his father, former congressman Harold Ford Sr.

Though Jake, now 33 and an independent candidate to succeed his brother in the 9th District race, did not mention the reasons for the assault, it has been an open secret for years that it had to do with tensions between his parents during a time when the senior Ford was under indictment for bank fraud and the family was enduring pressures that, to be sure, would be hard for outsiders to imagine.

The chronology of arrests, however, shows that at least one of them, for DUI, occurred in 1994, well after his father’s acquittal of all charges during the second of his two trials. And another charge admitted to Thursday by Jake Ford, assault against a former girl friend, occurred at some unspecified point in the ‘90s. [Note: On Friday, Jake Ford denied that the latter circumstance, reported in The Commercial Appeal and elsewhere after his Thursday press conference, ever happened.]

At his press conference, congressional candidate Ford maintained that the charges were dropped, and there is no extant record that any of them were prosecuted to completion.

Local blogger Thaddeus Matthews, whose publicly offered news tips have borne fruit at least as often as not, maintains in a current post, however, that Jake Ford attacked both his father and his congressman brother sometime last year, and he cites a member of the extended Ford family as his source.

Whether or not this happened, it is certainly true – as the Flyer has learned reliably – that Jake Ford has attacked his brother verbally, and quite recently, even as the two have maintained at least a surface comity and pursued their separate political races.

Three weeks ago, after a debate at the Central Library involving all three 9th District candidates – Democratic nominee Steve Cohen, Republican nominee Mark White, and Jake Ford – the latter, still wound up from the exertions of an encounter in which he had done well periodically but had owned up to weak points in his knowledge, fell into heated conversation with a group of attendees.

Multiple sources have confirmed that Jake Ford expressed skepticism that brother Harold would win his Senate race and proceeded further to refer to his congressman sibling, who already owned national celebrity and was being counted on by the Democratic Party to help recapture control of the Senate, as a “prima donna.”

Jake, the second of the three sons to be born to Harold and Dorothy Ford went on to assert: “I’m the one who inherited my father’s political sense, my brother Isaac is the one who got the business sense, and all Harold got was the name.”

These surprising declarations were made at a time when Jake Ford himself was trying to suggest that he owned an endorsement from his celebrated brother but when Harold Ford Jr. himself was attempting, then as now, to maintain a posture of strict neutrality between his brother and Cohen.

The one constant involving both Jake Ford and brother Harold was the clear public commitment they both owned from Ford Sr., now a Florida-based consultant who was spending much time in Memphis, involving himself in the campaigns of both sons.

But there have been clues indicating that the senior Ford was playing a more influential role with son Jake than with Harold Jr. On the occasion of a recent big-ticket fundraiser in Memphis for Senate candidate Ford, one would-be attendee arrived with an express courtesy invitation from the former congressman, only to be turned away by a member of Harold Ford Jr.’s campaign staff, who said, among other things, “Harold Ford Sr. has nothing to do with this campaign.”

It may indeed be that the senior Ford’s role in his namesake son’s campaign is more limited than had previously been thought. If so, that could be one reason why he seems to have made so firm a commitment to son Jake’s maiden political effort.

Ironically, given the explanation Jake Ford gave this week for his arrest record – tensions deriving from the period of former Rep. Ford’s indictment – the former congressman himself used a similar explanation some weeks back in an effort to explain the academic difficulties that caused his second son to drop out of prep school. (Jake Ford would later earn a G.E.D. and attend a year or two of college.)

“He is very bright,” said Ford Sr. of son Jake. “He scored very high on the SAT and ACT tests. But he was very much affected when I was indicted, and he had difficulty focusing on school.”

Some weeks back Joe Ford Sr. , the current chairman of the Shelby County Commission and an uncle to both Jake Ford and Harold Ford Jr., commented wearily, “People think we [the Fords] sit down as a group and decide what to do about things. That’s just not so.”

All indications are that the commissioner spoke correctly – a fact underscoring the irony of Republican Corker’s current ad campaign against Democrat Ford., one which has set out to draw attention to a “Ford dynasty” and to depict the family as a monolithic and somewhat shady organization determined to aggrandize itself at every level of government.

It may not be that way at all. Aunt Ophelia Ford, a candidate again for the state Senate 29 seat once held by brother John Ford, has re-materialized in public this past week after an extended period of absence. Attending a Shelby County Democratic dinner party on Wednesday night, she adorned herself at one point with campaign buttons for state Senate candidate Ivan Faulkner, 7th District congressional candidate Bill Morrison, and 9th District congressional candidate Steve Cohen, her nephew Jake’s opponent.

Maybe that was just Ophelia being playful. Or maybe she intended to make a statement. Whatever the case, after this week the pressure is certain to grow on Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. to make a statement of his own, one way or the other.

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