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VOL. 122 | NO. 121 | Friday, June 29, 2007

Ford's Behavior Affects Public Image, Analysts Say

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE (AP) - State Sen. Ophelia Ford's absences from this year's legislative session and her continued poor health raise questions about the Memphis Democrat's effectiveness as a lawmaker, political analysts say.

Ford has said she has been suffering from a severe case of anemia that has weakened her and caused her to miss several weeks of the session. She reportedly was taken to a hospital Sunday morning after complaining of chest pains.

"Anytime you have a lawmaker that misses that much time, (it) raises questions about how well the constituents are being represented," said Mark Byrnes, a Middle Tennessee State University political science professor who has written about state politics.

Ford was taken by ambulance Sunday morning from her Memphis home to Methodist University Hospital after telling emergency medical technicians about the chest pains, WHBQ-TV in Memphis reported based on an incident report filed with the Memphis Fire Department.

A spokeswoman at the hospital said Ford was not listed as a patient. Patients may request not to be listed on the directory to protect their privacy.

Ford did not immediately return a message left on her cell phone Wednesday by The Associated Press.

But according to excerpts from Ford's 911 call obtained by Memphis news media, she said she hasn't been eating properly and that she was having trouble breathing.

"I haven't eaten in about a week and I can't stop shaking," Ford said.

When the dispatcher asked her if she had a history of heart problems, Ford responded: "Yes. It's being looked at."

Besides her health, Ford's relatives have said they're concerned about her behavior in recent months.

Shelby County Commissioner Joe Ford, one of her brothers, believes his sister suffers from a problem with substance abuse, a claim she has repeatedly denied.

He couldn't be reached by the AP on Wednesday, but he told The Commercial Appeal that, "She needs to start being honest with everyone - our family, the news media, everyone."

Ophelia Ford shocked lawmakers and observers with an angry, rambling tirade that lasted several minutes in a Senate committee meeting May 14.

The next day she was taken to a hospital after falling from a bar stool at a Nashville hotel. Ford attributed her fall to problems she's had with anemia and to not eating properly, but a hotel employee told a 911 dispatcher that Ford was intoxicated.

The following week a taxi driver filed a police report accusing Ford of yanking his shirt while he drove her from a Nashville night spot to her hotel. No charges were filed.

"Her public behavior has been bizarre," Byrnes said. "It certainly doesn't help her image."

Another senator, Jerry Cooper, also has made headlines for his absences from the recent legislative session, as well as his legal battles.

A federal jury earlier this month acquitted the Morrison Democrat on all charges he faced in a fraud case. But Cooper, while free on bond on the federal charges, was injured in a Feb. 7 wreck that led to a drunken-driving charge. He has pleaded not guilty in that case and is awaiting trial.

Cooper also missed several weeks of the session because of the wreck.

Vanderbilt University political science professor John Geer said the missed days, strange behavior and legal battles may come back to haunt Ford and Cooper if they decide to run again.

"You make yourself vulnerable when you seek re-election," Geer said. "It provides opportunity for criticism from opponents."

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
MORTGAGES 0 131 1,047
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 20 39 190
BUILDING PERMITS 0 305 3,056
BANKRUPTCIES 17 135 753
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 53 329
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0