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VOL. 130 | NO. 60 | Friday, March 27, 2015

Ford Talks Then And Now Of Politics

By Bill Dries

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Former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. still talks about his early political schedule as a first-time candidate in 1996 speaking to Memphis kindergarten students.


Now he is 45 and has been out of elected office for nearly nine years. Ford is at a point where he can talk about “kids” in the public policy class he teaches at the University of Michigan.

One of those students recently came to Ford with a question about what political specialty he should choose.

“He said, ‘How do you suggest I go about my life in public service?’” Ford recalled Wednesday, March 25, at the annual luncheon for the Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Awards. “‘Should I be the adviser, senior adviser on public policy issues or should I be the political face?’”

“It’s interesting that young people today think of politics in that bifurcated kind of way,” Ford added. “I learned in a very different tradition that politics is really both.”

He also described today’s politics as “dysfunctional and polarized” and “gripped by division.”

The awards, sponsored by The Daily News, are given annually to one elected official and one non-elected public official in Shelby County who best exemplify the attributes of the late Probate Court Clerk the award is named in honor of.

The recipients, Shelby County Schools board member Billy Orgel and Shelby County government public affairs officer Steve Shular, were selected by a committee of members of the Dunavant family and members of the Rotary Club of Memphis East based on nominations from the public.

Shular said living up to the public service standards set by Dunavant is daunting.

“When you are in government, you are either one of two things,” he said. “You are either a target or you are a resource. And it has been such a pleasure to be a resource for these many years.”

Orgel, Shular and Ford spoke to a group of nearly 500 at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis that included Ford’s father, former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr., five of the seven current mayors in Shelby County and former county mayors Bill Morris and Jim Rout.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., in introducing Ford, mentioned that some were recruiting Ford to run for mayor, before adding that it was to run for mayor of New York City in 2017.

Ford moved to New York following his loss to Bob Corker in the 2006 U.S. Senate race in Tennessee.

Ford said after the luncheon there is nothing to the speculation.

“I read the same things. It’s fun to watch and fun to read,” he said. “Don’t pay too much attention to it because I’m not planning on doing that.”

Meanwhile, Orgel said the nine-member school board is a “model for the rest of the community” following “a lot of deep-seated animosity” among the transitional 23-member board that he chaired during the pivotal two years leading up to and through the merger of public education in Shelby County.

Orgel also said national standards in the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top initiatives set at the federal level still aren’t being met.

“Those children were in the second or third grade and they were supposed to be proficient in every subject by right now which would be their graduation year or close to it and it’s not that way,” he said. “Then you look at 55 percent of the children in Tennessee read on grade level. And that’s supposedly okay.”

Ford weighed in on the national debate about Common Core education standards.

“It was put forth by Republican and Democratic governors who were sick of the Feds telling them what to do and how to do it,” he said pointing to the specific learning standards Common Core sets. “I think these things are basic and if somebody thinks something is out of line about this, perhaps you are out of line.”

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