Would-be mayors could learn from Ford

People come up to Mr. Ford seeking assistance — he helps


Several weeks ago, I sat in the Coney Island downtown with former Mayor Jack Ford. He had a beer. I had an iced tea. Everyone called him “mayor,” but not the way they call him that in West Toledo. Here it meant friend.

Jack Ford is a retail politician. Wholesale, he always undersold himself. But retail? He is still the mayor on certain streets in this town. People come up to Mr. Ford seeking help — small things and large. He helps.

And now the first black mayor of Toledo, the first black Democratic leader in the Ohio legislature, a professor who knows public policy as well as he knows Toledo neighborhoods, is running again for Toledo City Council.


Being on council is tedious, often thankless work. Mr. Ford almost died two years ago. Why not play golf?

Because his golf is service.

Jack Ford says he thinks he was given a little more time to do a little more good. He says he doesn’t want to be a shadow mayor, he just wants to work on “some rough problems” he sees ahead. He lists four: youth services, housing, poverty, and race.

Have you heard any of the candidates for mayor seriously engage any of these issues?

Mr. Ford says the city can support business and rebuild neighborhoods too. “Most of us,” he says, “would not live in an inner city neighborhood for half a day.” At least not without a gun.

Mr. Ford called the other day to invite me to a fund-raiser for Bethany House, the shelter for women. He put it in personal terms, for it’s all personal to him now: “We have made a memorial garden for a friend of ours who died. Her name was Katrina.”

When I arrived, I discovered that Mr. Ford’s job at the event was to raise money. He is often asked to do this for groups these days, he says. “People know I don't mind.” His technique was to call out individuals, mostly politicians, by name.

He had each one walk to the front of the room and put down a check or IOU. Mike Bell was a no-show.

Some people do not want Mr. Ford back in city government. They say he is from the past and they want new blood.

Fair enough. But our would-be mayors, and the next council, could learn a lot from Jack Ford.

Roughly 10 years ago, I went to visit Sen. Eugene McCarthy in his last home in Washington. I worked for Mr. McCarthy in the 1970s and stayed in touch through the years. The senator was musing about Congress, and the name of Sen. Ted Kennedy came up.

Now if you know anything about the politics of 1968, you know that Mr. McCarthy and the Kennedy clan had little use for each other. We are talking real stakes, long memories, and Irish blood.

So what Mr. McCarthy said astonished me. He said, “Old Ted, he just does good, you know.”

A few days back, Carty Finkbeiner, his old nemesis, uttered similar words about Jack Ford.

Sargent Shriver said it well: “Teach those who are ignorant. Care for the sick. Serve your families. Serve your cities. Serve the poor. Serve, serve, serve. For in the end, it will be servants who save us all.”

Keith C. Burris is associate editor of The Blade. Contact him at: or 419-724-6266.