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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 4/27/2014 - Updated: 4 months ago

COMMENTARY

Ford tiptoes into a tough legislative race

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

Toledo political tongues have been wagging over the possibility that former mayor and current Councilman Jack Ford is looking at a run for the state Senate in the 11th District —against incumbent and fellow Democrat Edna Brown.

Mr. Ford has been circulating petitions and he has told friends he is serious about the race.

Democrats are no strangers to internal fights, but most party stalwarts don’t like them.

Ms. Brown is pro-labor and a fellow African-American. Indeed, she is a successful African-American woman. Moreover, as Joe McNamara and others have learned, she is no pushover. She is now a powerful Senate incumbent, with all the advantages that entails. Mr. Ford is a natural ally and friend. And he has fought serious health problems in recent years (he is diabetic). Everyone, including him, thought his last race for council was his swan song. Why even think about a difficult and contentious race like this?

Mr. Ford says four things got him into to this:

First, the city’s loss of state Joint Economic Development Zone funds, seemingly because the Toledo legislative delegation was asleep at the wheel. Mr. Ford, who served six years in the legislature, and was Democratic floor leader in the House, is perhaps less angry than Mayor Mike Collins who is still furious about this. But Mr. Ford says he can’t understand it. Legislators, he says, are typically briefed in detail, on paper and in caucus, on a bill like this. Someone has to be more aggressive about Toledo’s interests in Columbus.

Second, he is concerned with the Ohio Republican Party’s attempt to suppress the black vote. He would like to be a voice of angry vigilance on this issue. As the first black mayor of Toledo and the first black leader in the Ohio legislature, he has the status to be just that.

Third, he is concerned with the lack of jobs for African-American youth, and the rate of incarceration of young black men. He is convinced that this is too large a problem for cities to handle alone. Ultimately, there will have to be a jobs program, a sort of small-scale WPA, that can only be funded by the state.

Finally, he fears the Ohio heroin epidemic will take an enormous toll not only on urban, but suburban, youth in Ohio. We need better law enforcement strategies and more residential treatment programs, he says. He would be the only member of the state Senate with experience running a drug rehabilitation program. He feels he can bring some constructive knowledge to the table.

So is Mr. Ford disrespecting Ms. Brown? Not at all. He thinks she is a good person who has served her community. But competition is the essence of our political and economic system. After all, Mr. Ford’s good friend Carty Finkbeiner, knocked him out of the mayor’s office. Politics is a contact sport.

So what will happen here?

Mr. Ford tells me that his health is stabilized. The legislature is still a part-time gig, in any case.

Mr. Ford was widely thought a masterful legislator when in Columbus, forging a close working relationship even with then-Republican Gov. Bob Taft. Mr. Ford’s stature has not diminished. He was sought out, earlier this year, as a possible running mate for one of the potential Democratic candidates for governor. It’s safe to say he would bring credit, and attention, to Toledo. His is one of the best minds and longest resumes in Ohio politics.

Much will depend on how strong and well-financed a campaign Mr. Ford is able to mount, on whether Mr. Ford's many friends and proteges in Toledo and Columbus step up, and on Ms. Brown.

As the saying goes, this could get loud. Stay tuned.

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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