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VOL. 125 | NO. 144 | Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ford Jr. Takes Readers Behind the Scenes With New Book

By Bill Dries

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Former Memphis Congressman Harold Ford Jr. has plenty to say about Memphis politics and Willie Herenton and Steve Cohen in his new autobiography, “More Davids Than Goliaths,” out in August. Ford writes with an insiders perspective on the national political scene as well as the local political scene.  Photo: Bill Dries

Former Memphis Congressman Harold Ford Jr. made it clear last week that he’s a former Memphian.

But his new book, “More Davids Than Goliaths,” to be released next month, has plenty of Memphis – Memphis politics, at least – on its pages.

Ford will return to his former hometown for an Aug. 18 book signing at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in East Memphis.

The book, which hits bookstores Aug. 10, offers lots of backstage political insights, both local and national.

Much of it centers on Ford’s last campaign, his 2006 bid for the U.S. Senate. He lost by 50,000 votes to Republican Bob Corker.

Of the 2006 encounter on the parking lot of Signature Flight Support in Memphis between Ford and Corker, Ford judges his decision to invade Corker’s press conference there as a “mistake.”

There is plenty of insight into his father’s political career and how his father handled two bank fraud trials in the 1990s. Harold Ford Sr. has rarely publicly analyzed his political success. His son’s view offers some insight into an indelible political presence.

Ford Jr. also makes it clear that he considers former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton to be a political enemy who worked against him in the 1996 House race to succeed his father and again in the 2006 Senate campaign.

More Davids than Goliaths
Available August 10
Signing August 18, Davis Kidd Booksellers, 387 Perkins Ext.

“His objection to my (1996) candidacy was inspired by one thing,” Ford wrote. “He wanted full control of the Memphis political landscape. My dad’s retirement from Congress presented Herenton with a chance to consolidate political power, he believed. If I won, it would threaten his plan.”

Ford also wrote that he wasn’t “fond of Herenton personally” because he felt Herenton had “betrayed” the Fords during Ford Sr.’s second federal bank fraud trial in 1993.

Ford Sr. was acquitted of all charges, but the elder Ford joked moments after his acquittal that Herenton hadn’t been among those in the political community who attended the trial or offered any support. As the trial began, Herenton had publicly called for calm in the city and against any demonstrations in behalf of Ford.

Ford also calls out an unidentified Shelby County Commissioner who considered running for Congress in 1996 but offered not to if Ford Sr. would support his bid for mayor in 1999.

“Let me get this straight,” Ford remembers his father telling the commissioner. “You want me to agree to support you in a race that’s three years away so that you won’t run in a congressional race today because you think that will give my son an advantage?”

When the commissioner said that was the gist of the proposition, Ford writes that his father dismissed it.

”I’m not in the business of making political deals like that,” Ford quoted his father as saying. “If your condition for running for either office has something to do with what I will or won’t do, this is a wasteful conversation for both of us.”

The younger Ford’s closest competitor in the 1996 Democratic congressional primary was then state Sen. Steve Cohen. Ford believes Herenton was

helping Cohen even though Herenton had publicly endorsed Rufus Jones in the primary.

“Steve wanted so badly to introduce race and was willing to distort my words to make race an issue,” Ford writes as he accused Cohen of misquoting a frequent Ford reference to Cohen as the “great Republican hope” in the race. Cohen accused Ford of referring to him as the “great white hope.”

Whatever ill feelings there might have been seem to have faded to a degree.

In Memphis last week to endorse his uncle, Joe Ford, in the Shelby County mayor’s race, Ford Jr. praised Cohen’s work as a congressman but emphasized it wasn’t an endorsement of Cohen. Harold Ford Sr. has endorsed Cohen.

Father and son have been careful in public statements about the race not to mention Herenton in any way.

Ford writes that he considered answering the now famous 2006 Corker TV ad featuring a woman flirtatiously closing the spot by inviting Ford to call her.

His plan was to answer it with a TV ad shot in a barn featuring Gov. Phil Bredesen and former Gov. Ned McWherter. Bredesen agreed to do the ad. McWherter,

whose cooperation was essential in helping Ford come across well with rural Democrats, did not although he did campaign for Ford.

As a plan B, Ford considered an attack ad that would charge Corker had hired illegal immigrant construction workers.

“Your mind goes to unwholesome places when your opponent abandons all morality,” Ford wrote.

He didn’t do the attack ad, but the allegation found its way into the campaign. Corker denied any wrongdoing.

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