VOL. 130 | NO. 28 | Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Justin Ford: ‘We’re On The Cusp Of Change’
By Bill Dries
Shelby County commission chairman Justin Ford is running for Memphis Mayor in 2015.
Ford announced his intention to challenge Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. Monday, Feb. 9, joining former county commissioner James Harvey, city council member Jim Strickland, and former University of Memphis basketball player Detric Golden in the growing field.
Prospective candidates can’t begin picking up qualifying petitions for the October Memphis ballot until April.
As a result, many of the political declarations at this point are followed by some fundraising and not much public back and forth among the candidates.
The exception was Strickland responding to Wharton’s State of the City address last month in Overton Square.
“We have a few months here between now and April,” Ford said. “And once those petitions are issued, I do plan on picking one up. At this point in time, I would only be speculating to say I have every reason to run for mayor.”
Ford described his entry into the race as “part of the progression, moving forward.”
“We’re on the cusp of change and more people in the race is a better opportunity to show different sides of the coin and perspectives,” he said, adding he will have to have a healthy campaign war chest of contributions. “A C Wharton is an incumbent. At the end of the day incumbents are hard to beat. So at the end of the day, if you can’t find your support and have a focus and a real plan, you might not be successful.”
Ford had not filed a post-2014 campaign finance disclosure report with the Shelby County Election Commission as of Monday, which would indicate how much money he has left from past campaigns and how much he has raised since the August county elections.
Ford, a funeral director and vice president of Ford Funeral Homes, is the son of former city council member, county commissioner and interim Shelby County Mayor Joe Ford.
The younger Ford ran for and was elected to the county commission in 2010 when his father ran for a full four-year term as county mayor. In the interim, between his father’s departure and his election, commissioners appointed Edith Ann Moore to the seat, marking the first time since 1994 that a member of the Ford family had not been on the commission.
Joe Ford won the Democratic primary and lost to Republican nominee Mark Luttrell in the 2010 county general election.
Meanwhile, Justin Ford, who had vied for the interim appointment to the commission, won the commission seat in the election.
He won re-election in 2014 despite a residency investigation by the county attorney’s office following a complaint that Ford didn’t live in the district he represents. The county attorney’s office concluded Ford’s “primary residence is probably” the address he listed at the Fairway Apartments in South Memphis.
The report from county attorney Marcy Ingram also found that the apartment had not had any utilities turned on for more than two years.
“When asked why his (Memphis Light Gas and Water) services have been disconnected for such a significant period, Commissioner Ford explained that he does not have a high salary and has faced financial challenges that have required him to make sacrifices,” the report read.
Ford also reportedly asked investigators if there was any law against not having utility services during the investigation.
Ford, although a Democrat, has been a swing vote on the commission frequently voting with Republicans on the body.
The crossover prompted some Democratic commissioners newly elected to the body in 2014 to briefly challenge Ford’s authority as chairman at the start of the new four-year term in September.
Ford was elected to a one-year term as chairman in September with his own vote and that of the six Republicans on the commission.
The challenge of Ford reached its climax when seven of the 13 county commissioners filed a Chancery Court lawsuit against Ford accusing him of not allowing commissioners to introduce items for discussion and action.
The two factions at least temporarily resolved their differences short of a court ruling on the specific point.
The city mayor’s office has been a long-time goal of the Ford family – the city’s best known political family.
Ford’s uncle, Edmund Ford Sr., then a city council member, was among the challengers Wharton faced in the 2011 race for Memphis mayor.
Joe Ford challenged incumbent Mayor Willie Herenton in the 1999 race.
Harold Ford Sr., also Justin Ford’s uncle, when he was the city’s Congressman, contemplated a challenge of incumbent Mayor Dick Hackett in 1987 but said later he called it off following his indictment on federal bank fraud charges – charges he was later acquitted of.
When he was a state senator, John Ford, Justin Ford’s uncle, challenged Hackett in the 1983 mayor’s race.