In N.Y., Ford falls apart

Harold Ford is the best thing that ever happened to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). 

Not too long ago, the appointed senator was viewed with mistrust by progressives, unknown to voters at large, and under pressure from the prospective candidacies of top Empire State Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki. But her campaign has received a wholly unexpected gift — the disastrous early efforts of recent transplant Harold Ford Jr., last seen railing against gays and abortions in the 2006 Tennessee Senate race. 

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As a Merrill Lynch rainmaker, Ford pulls down a seven-figure salary for what appears to be very part-time work, given that he spends significant time as a pundit on MSNBC, teaches a class at NYU and pretends to run for Senate now and then on the side. In an era of rising populist anger against bank bailouts and taxpayer-funded multimillion-dollar bonuses, Ford quixotically promises voters even greater Wall Street representation in Congress. He apparently mistakes the words of encouragement from his bankster buddies for genuine popular support, not understanding that these days, those two are mutually exclusive.

Yet we have the bizarre spectacle of Ford claiming he knows New York well — because he’s toured all five boroughs in a helicopter with his executive buddies. He blabs to media about his regular pedicures and trips to the office in a chauffeured limo, and about his October 2008 champagne engagement party with upper-crust friends at the hyper-exclusive Ritz Hotel on the Place Vendôme in Paris. Asked whether he’s a Jets or Giants fan, and unable to say “Titans!” he talks about his fancy breakfasts and lunches with the teams’ owners, rather than discussing Eli Manning or Mark Sanchez. 

Ford claims to have moved to New York three years ago, yet he’s never paid taxes in the state, making him either a liar or a tax cheat. It’s probably the former, because in 2009, responding to suggestions that he run for governor of Tennessee this year, he was very clear in his embrace of Tennessee even as he passed on the race: “My passion for using public policy to overcome the challenges our state faces and my love for Tennessee and our country remain high. I will continue to stay involved to advocate for ideas that will help Tennesseans secure a bright economic future. I will continue teaching at Vanderbilt University, speaking and writing on major issues ... ” Our state? And to underscore his commitment to his real home state: “There will be another race and time to ask for your support.” Yup, definitely a liar.

No wonder he’s laid down preconditions for interviewing him, since every move he makes is contradictory. He complains about coverage of his pedicures and posh lifestyle — “This race isn’t about feet, it’s about issues” — yet he ducks questions about his laughable claims that he’s always been pro-choice and gay-friendly. And he’s flat-out wrong. This race is about both the issues and his inability to identify with the suffering of middle-class New Yorkers. 

For her part, Gillibrand has bolstered her left flank by eagerly becoming an outspoken champion of a public health insurance option and the rights of gay soldiers. Ford’s potential entry has generated loads of media attention, boosting the incumbent’s name recognition and making her look extremely professional by comparison. Polling shows dominant Gillibrand primary leads and, more importantly, improving favorability numbers.

Indeed, Ford isn’t just helping Gillibrand stand out and clarify her stands in the primary — he’s bolstering her standing for the general election, ultimately making it much more difficult for Republicans to take the seat.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com).