Sunday, January 17, 2010

Memphis Blues

I’ve heard it said that writing a blog is like joining a gym. You start out like a house on fire, but before you know it, you're putting on weight and your membership has lapsed. In my case, it’s been a while since something has infuriated me sufficiently to get me back to the blog. Happily, last Wednesday (1/13/10), I found a fresh outrage on the front page of the New York Times. His name is Harold E. Ford, Jr.

Mr. Ford wants to run for the United States Senate from New York. Except that Mr. Ford isn’t from New York, he’s recently moved here from Tennessee, where he lost a race for the Senate in 2006. According to the Times, he said he would be “a fiercer advocate for New York” than Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand. Okay, fine. We like fierce in New York, but the notion that we have to import it—from Tennessee—does not make a lot of sense. Have you ridden the subways lately?

Of course, there are those who will argue that New York has had a history of carpetbaggers in the Senate, most notably Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. Despite RFK’s familial Boston accent, however, the fact is that he’d lived much of his life in New York at the time of his election. I can make no such claim for Mrs. Clinton (and I was against her, too), but, to paraphrase the famous description of Dan Quayle, Mr. Ford is no Hillary Clinton.

Harold E. Ford, Jr. is one of those politicians who has never held down a real job outside of government in his life. He had an elite education at St. Alban’s School for Boys and the University of Pennsylvania, followed by law school at the University of Michigan. Despite graduating from one of the nations finest law schools, he failed the bar exam in 1998 and never roused himself to take it again. After a couple of years as a capitol staff aide, in 1996 he inherited his father’s 10-term seat in the House. (The elder Ford was tried and acquitted in 1990 on bank fraud charges.) In fact, politics is the Ford family business. In all, seven family members have held political office, three of whom have been indicted on federal charges.

Mr. Ford, Jr. moved to New York in 2007, after becoming engaged to Emily Threlkeld, who works here for the Carolina Herrera fashion house. They married the following year, and, befitting his new responsibilities, Mr. Ford took his first real job—Vice Chairman at Bank of America, at a reported salary of $1 million per year. Who says there are no entry level jobs in New York? Okay, so his influence is for sale, what pol’s isn’t? What’s more distressing is the fact that he seems completely untethered to any political principles.

As a Congressman from Tennessee, he voted against same-sex marriage, described himself as pro-life, voted to protect gun makers from lawsuits and to repeal the District of Columbia’s restrictions on firearms (he’s still a card carrying NRA member), and voted to allow local police to arrest illegal immigrants ( a measure energetically opposed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on the grounds that it will prevent people from cooperating with the NYPD). Now, he says that his positions on all these issues have “evolved.”

Possibly, this Senate seat is just cursed. New York Governor Patterson has been a dead man walking since he appointed Ms. Gillibrand. And whatever happened to Caroline Kennedy, whom everyone thought was the governor’s presumptive appointee? Why haven’t the people who said she’d be a brilliant Senator mentioned a single word about her as a potential candidate? Possibly, Ms. Kennedy liked the idea of being Senator, she just didn’t want to bother running for Senator. Come to think of it, under those rules, I might just throw my hat in the ring. And one final thought on Mr. Ford: I’ve got a hundred bucks that says he doesn’t know how to pronounce “Houston Street.”