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VOL. 124 | NO. 77 | Tuesday, April 21, 2009

At 38, Ford Jr. Pens Memoir

By Andy Meek

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Harold Ford Jr.

When Harold Ford Jr. delivered the keynote address at the 2000 Democratic Party convention, the young, charismatic African-American congressman from Memphis was seen as the party’s next rising star.

People began to mention him as a contender to become the country’s first black president.

Ford will describe the lessons he learned from that episode and everything that came next in his 320-page memoir, “More Davids Than Goliaths,” slated for publication in December. He’ll be 39 when his book is published by Crown, a division of Random House.

“Reflecting on what he’s learned from his extended political family, the slings and arrows of the campaign trail and those across our nation who inspire him, ‘More Davids Than Goliaths’ explains Ford’s conviction: ‘At its best, leadership in government can solve, inspire, and heal,’” according to early information from the book’s publisher. “Along the way, Ford reminds us that in America, there are more Davids than Goliaths, more solutions than problems, more that unites us than divides us.”

Apple and the tree

Ford, the son of one of the most prominent political legacies in Memphis, represented the 9th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 2007.

It was a seat previously held for 22 years by his father, Harold Ford Sr., a lion of Memphis’ political scene who predictably cast a long shadow over his son’s career. The elder Ford was the most powerful politician Memphis had seen since E.H. Crump.

Ford Jr. depended heavily on his father for political counsel and for the elder Ford’s vaunted get-out-the-vote campaigns. As a testament to their preparation, Ford Sr. could be seen occasionally mouthing along as his son delivered speeches on the campaign trail early in the 1996 effort.

Echoing that adeptness at retail politics, Ford Jr.’s 1996 race included a unique statistic: He spoke as a candidate at about 30 kindergarten graduation ceremonies in the Memphis area.

When he took office at age 26, Ford was one of the youngest congressmen in U.S. history.

He later came within 50,000 votes – or 3 percentage points – of winning in 2006 the Senate seat vacated by former U.S. Sen., Republican Bill Frist. Former Chattanooga mayor Bob Corker won that race in a hard-fought campaign that proved to be Ford’s second act on the national political stage.

Time, place for everything

Suhair Lauck, the owner of The Little Tea Shop Downtown, reminisced to The Daily News about Ford’s actions during the 2006 Senate race. She got to know him as a young man, can still point out the table he regularly occupied and remembers encouraging him when he first ventured into politics.

“When he first ran for Congress, everybody told him he was going to fill his daddy’s shoes,” Lauck said. “And I told him, ‘Don’t listen to that. His shoes are different than yours.’”

Today, Ford is a political analyst for MSNBC, a professor at Vanderbilt University, chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and a vice chairman and senior policy adviser for Merrill Lynch. He was briefly in the spotlight earlier this month with the release of a statement explaining he intended to sit out the 2010 Tennessee governor’s race.

The Dec. 29 release date for his memoir suggests Ford has chosen to focus on his legacy at a time when candidates for the governor’s race must be out of the starting gate.

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