Skip to comments.'New Yorker' Harold Ford Jr. flees Tennessee record - Ex-moderate touts liberalism in Senate race
Posted on 01/17/2010 9:20:21 PM PST by neverdem
NEW YORK "Are you a New Yorker?"
It was the evening of Jan. 11, and Chris Matthews was on MSNBC asking what many in this city wanted to know about Harold Ford Jr.
"I live in New York," the former Congressman from Memphis answered. "My wife and I plan to start and raise a family there. I pay taxes there, and once you pay taxes there, you feel like a New Yorker."
"But are you a New Yorker?" Matthews pressed.
"You're a New Yorker?" Matthews continued. "Say, 'I am a New Yorker.'"
"I am a New Yorker," Ford said, repeating mantra-like: "I am a New Yorker. I am a New Yorker. I am a New Yorker."
Ford isn't just a New Yorker. He's a might-be New York politician now, yet another carpetbagger eyeing a U.S. Senate seat that has long been welcoming to carpetbaggers.
He'll have lofty political company — James L. Buckley, Robert F. Kennedy, Hillary Clinton — if he runs for and wins a New York Senate seat as a recent transplant.
But while Ford's announced interest in running for the U.S. Senate in New York seemed to surprise many here, and many others in Memphis, the birth of a West Tennessee Ford as a New York politico had been whispered about in the city for at least two months. That was due, in large measure, to questions about how Ford's socially conservative stances from the Volunteer State would hold up in socially liberal New York.
Mary Alice Carr first heard the whispers about Ford in November 2009.
The vice president of communications for NARAL Pro Choice New York, the state chapter of a national organization that opposes restrictions on abortions, Carr was in her Park Avenue office when she received a call from a Crain's New York Business reporter.
"What do you know about Harold Ford Jr. running for Senate in New York?" the reporter asked her.
The prospect immediately troubled Carr.
"We were familiar with his record," Carr said. "Many of us were familiar with his record from 2006, when he was running in Tennessee."
That record was pro-life.
And so, on Jan. 5, when The New York Times first reported what some had been gossiping about as a political possibility, Carr and NARAL were ready.
The day after that Times article, NARAL's staff in New York released video clips of Ford emphasizing his position as an anti-abortion politician.
"I'm pro-life," Ford told MSNBC host Tucker Carlson in one clip from 2006. "I'm pro-life, Tucker, so I mean, I don't run from that."
But while that might have been true four years ago as Ford crisscrossed Tennessee, it isn't true today as he walks the streets of Manhattan.
In fact, with the help of newly hired media handler Davidson Goldin, the former editorial director of MSNBC, Ford six days ago launched a tightly controlled television and print media campaign in New York to run from that very Tennessee record.
Ford told Matt Lauer on the "Today" show that he now supports gay marriage, even though as a congressional representative from Memphis he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act.
In a front page editorial for the New York Post, Ford wrote: "I am pro-choice -- have always been since I entered politics 15 years ago."
That statement, which went unchallenged in the Post, contradicts recorded interviews with Ford from his 2006 Senate campaign in Tennessee.
Memphis media were not part of Ford's weeklong media campaign in New York. Neither he nor his publicist responded to requests for an in-person interview for The Commercial Appeal.
But The New York Times was part of that campaign, and on Tuesday, the newspaper published a story from its interview with Ford -- the only occasion so far that Ford has spoken with a print media reporter about the U.S. Senate seat in New York.
Despite being a docile conversation intended to introduce Ford to New York voters — the Times published a full transcript of the interview online at nytimes.com — the politician from Memphis offered a description of his Manhattan life that was hardly like the average urbanite here.
A vice president for Merrill Lynch whose salary the Times estimated at $1 million per year, Ford eats breakfast regularly at the swank Regency Hotel and dines with New York Giants owner Steve Tisch, according to the Times interview. He takes the subway only in the winter when he can't get a taxi on Fifth Avenue. He admits to barely having stepped foot in one of New York City's outer boroughs.
"Have you been to Staten Island?" Times reporter Michael Barbaro asked.
"I landed there in the helicopter, so I can say yes," Ford responded.
New York's snarky journalists and bloggers latched on to Ford's silver-spooned description of life in Manhattan.
A Village Voice headline soon read: "Tennessee Stud Ford Once Landed in Staten Island."
Gawker.com created a map of the restaurants and bars that Ford frequents, which includes MO Bar, the expensive watering hole atop the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The map's title: "The Harold Ford Campaign Trail: A Guide to Fine Dining."
But halfway through Ford's bumpy campaign to reposition himself as a socially liberal candidate from lower Manhattan, the news shifted in a terrible direction. A magnitude-7 earthquake had leveled Haiti's capital city, leaving tens of thousands trapped, dying or dead.
Amy Davidson of The New Yorker wrote for the magazine's Web site: "The attention rightfully given to Haiti in the last two days has obscured — slightly — the awfulness of Ford's interview with the Times."
On Wednesday evening, Ford headed to the Haitian Consulate on Madison Avenue where Rev. Al Sharpton, still a political heavyweight in the state, had called a press conference.
Wearing a long black cashmere coat, Ford looked solemn in front of the bank of news cameras. Appearing with the Memphis native and Sharpton was Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand -- Ford's would-be rival in the Democratic primary whom he trails in an early poll, 43 percent to 24 percent.
"We all have some Haitian in us, and we stand in solidarity with the Haitian people until Haiti is restored," Sharpton told the audience as Ford stood to his right.
By as early as Monday, Ford plans to fly to Haiti with Sharpton and state Senate President Malcolm Smith.
These days, Ford isn't just a New Yorker. He's a New Yorker behaving like a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Trevor Aaronson, a Florida-based freelancer, is a former reporter for The Commercial Appeal.
A Ford and Gillibrand primary will be a tale of two flip floppers.
Ford will fit right in with the New York Democrats. Memphis, the city that hatched Marion Barry and Willie Harrington.
Well he has no chance of ever going back to Tennessee and standing for office now.
I guess New York has lost all its political talent, where is the Senatorial candidate to represent the Northern, Central and Western part of NY. Its not all about NYC. Upstate is still waiting for the 250,000 jobs Hillary was to provide per her 2000 campaign.
Liberal New Yorkers have proven their ignorance of all things real. Ford can’t be any worse than any other jack-ass they could think of.
FReepmail me if you want on or off my New York ping list.
Thanks for the ping!
Yeah, Harold keep espousing that liberal tripe and see how far it gets you in this political climate even in New York.
I also forgot that Liberals don’t flip-flop they evolve...HaHa.
Not true. I live here in his old district. He could win it again easily.
So, the Ford interview was lousy and he came off badly. He said some dumb things. But will he be vilified as a rube and a dummy who will never be ready for the big leagues in the same way they’ve treated Sarah Palin?
It seems to me that Ford is such a chameleon that his political ventures will always be hapless.
Ford would be an improvement for NY.
Thanks for the laughs Harry & Chrissy....let’s see Harry FORD escapes the legacy of the shameful FORD Political crime family in TN. He’s now a political refugee like Hillary from AR and needs to burnish his lefty-libby credentials just as MA is going Red and NY is next....cannot get anymore hilarious unless Chrissy Matthews jumps into this NY shitte with both left feet.
He was against abortion and gay marriage before he was for them. Typical.
There is more honesty in a prostitute than there is in a professional politician.
WTH? Harold Ford now lives in NY and may run for the Senate. This apparently has been in the news but today is the first I’m hearing of it. I don’t know if he would be running to the left or right of G(j)illibrand.
How could you not have heard by now? The news has gotten, umm, *a bit* more media coverage than that white-mustached McKinley fellow running against Mollohan. : )
Here’s a good recap of how Ford has screwed up ever since he decided to launch his trial balloon: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-01-14/harold-ford-implodes/
I’m thinking now I probably did hear about it, but plum forgot.
Sometimes I have Al Gore’s faulty memory. ;d
Why is Ford now pro-choice, having previously declared that Im pro-life and I dont run from that? Its all a big mistake, Ford explained. By pro-life he meant his support for benefits to veterans and equal pay treatment to National Guardsmen. Nothing about abortion at all.
Ford begins, I had breakfast about every morning when I am in town or should I say, several mornings, at the Regency. (Note to aspiring politicians: When trying to establish ones local credentials, dont say you have breakfast in the state when I am in town.
He makes Shillery look like a true blue NYer.
Don’t forget he lost his Tennessee Senate race to Bob Corker...a total RINO but doesn’t get the attention he deserves because of our other wimpy, wishy-washy Senator Charlie ‘Lamar!’ Brown Alexander.