Update: March 1st 2010 –  Ford has quit.  Given up!  And while many will credit Stephen Colbert for righteously taking him down, I’d like to think this early blog (editor’s pick on Open Salon) might have helped.  So for the next couple of days, it gets a sticky!

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1968, flashback to my 8 year-old self: I wake up to the news on the radio that Bobby Kennedy has been shot. I stumble into my parents’ bedroom waking them with the announcement. My mother still groggy says, “I never liked him. He was a carpetbagger.”

More than thirty years later, the year 2000, both my parents are thrilled that Hillary will be running for a New York senate seat. I bring up the “carpetbagger” remark which my mother denies making. My father points out that Bill was “our” President and he’s willing to consider the Clintons honorary New Yorkers.

January 6, 2010, The New York Times reports that former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. may be planning a Senate run against Kirsten Gillibrand — the plucky, upstate congresswoman appointed to fill Hilary’s seat by hapless Governor Paterson, after the whole Caroline Kennedy mess.

According to The Times, “discussions between Mr. Ford and top Democratic donors reflect the dissatisfaction of some prominent party members with Ms. Gillibrand, who has yet to win over key constituencies, especially in New York City.”

Certainly there is an upstate/downstate divide. Paterson had wanted to appoint an upstater for balance, a practical measure to help him in his planned run for the office to which he was appointed as a result of the Elliot Spitzer scandal. Before her appointment, there was concern that Gillibrand was too conservative for downstate particularly on issues like gun control. Gillibrand had been known as a strong supporter of gun ownership and “hunters’ rights.” For an upstate politician, any other position would be political suicide. She’s since moderated or at least finessed her stance and has even worked with crusading anti-gun Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy. McCarthy had previously considered running against Gillibrand over this issue.

Ford is from a conservative southern state. He is chairman of the Centrist Democratic Leadership Council and the son of a former congressman. He moved to New York in 2006 after his unsuccessful senate run in Tennessee and took a job as vice chairman of Merrill Lynch. For most New Yorker’s he’s an unknown quality, a handsome talking head/political consultant -commentator on MSNBC.

The democrats supporting him are an elite group of donors — high-powered people in the financial sector. The Times alludes to Ford’s “formidable track record as a fund raiser” and potential ability to “tap into African American voters nationwide.”

There is no mention within the article of how the two candidates, both centrists, differ on any policy issues. New York City and the downstate region are known for being more liberal than upstate. Why run someone in opposition to Gillibrand who has no substantial policy differences?

One can foresee the drama that would play out should Ford enter the race. This is one show that New York does not need. Her side: The spunky, blonde upstater standing up to the liberal elites power-brokers from the City — she tried to work with them, but they were against her from the start and brought in an out of town hired-gun to do their dirty work. His side: A young, smart African American man just like the president New Yorkers have come to embrace running against an attractive woman playing to the worst fears of the white working class.

In a sick way, the blonde gal versus the black man of course evokes Hilary vs. Obama as well as Obama vs. Palin. Ford and his backers should remember, however, that Hilary whose campaign was already losing a lot of its luster and who had alienated many of her constituents by voting for Bush’s war, still managed to eek out a victory over Obama in the New York state primary. In the general election, Obama was victorious over McCain/Palin — but this had to do with actual issues about which New Yorkers cared.

The city may not have warmed to Gillibrand yet, but she’s working on it and at least she’ll never have the “carpetbagger” label. A bunch of big name fat-cats reaching out to Ford and hoping to market his blackness seems like the worst kind of pandering. It insults voters the same way as the McCain campaign did by picking a female vice presidential candidate hoping it would bring in alienated Hilary supporters. The idea that Ford will succeed with urban voters based on his image versus his substance does no service to Ford or the people of New York.

Gillibrand has already shown herself to be an adroit politician and a tough one. There’s no way that a primary fight over personalities and not issues especially one with an upstate/downstate divide can be good for the dems especially in what will be a tough season for them all around.

As for Harold Ford Jr., my advice to him — if you’re really committed to the people of our state, wouldn’t it make sense to start working for them on a local level even in a non-elected capacity? There’ll be other opportunities to run. Let us get to know you. We love immigrants and have been known to take them into our hearts.

(This blog is also available at Marion’s Open Salon page where it was an “Editor’s Pick”. More comments there.)

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3 Responses to “Carpetbagger or Hired Gun? Should Harold Ford Jr. Run for a New York Senate Seat?”

  1. Karen says:

    I have to say I agree with you. Democrats aren’t looking so strong in NY these days, between Gillibrand and Paterson (“hapless”–perfect word!), and thinking an outsider with no name recognition (unlike Hillary’s in 2000) is going to win over the upstaters in a state-wide election is just naive. Ford can’t even try to woo the upstaters, since it would just look look like a replay of Hillary’s “listening tour.”

    The NY Democratic Party is just looking stupider and stupider. At this rate, we’ll end up with Governor Lazio and Senator…lord knows. Peter King? Who is the GOP planning to run against Gillibrand–do we even know?

    Great piece.

  2. a friend says:

    Did you see today’s New York Times op-ed where Harold Ford falls all over himself explaining why he isn’t running at the same time saying how he woulda won but the fat cats wouldn’t have stood behind him, blah, blah, blah.

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