Recently Harold Ford conducted his own poll to test his electability and weaknesses with New Yorkers. Would his deep ties to Wall Street turn off those struggling to make ends meet in the recession? Among African-Americans, is he a young leader in the style of Barack Obama? Will it bother people that he only moved to New York three years ago and has only paid taxes for one of those years? Yes, no and maybe.
In truth, all of the above might be issues for Harold Ford as he decides whether or not to pursue the coveted New York State Senate seat. The biggest hurdle he will have to overcome, however, is his inability to connect with New Yorkers beyond Wall Street or the politically well heeled.
The state of New York is facing hard times. The unemployment rate is dangerously close to the national average, 9 percent compared to the national high of 9.7 percent. In the five boroughs, the unemployment rate hovers around 11 percent and the unemployment rate for African-Americans is over 15 percent. And the subprime mortgage crisis has ravaged many low-income and working class communities in New York making it difficult for many families to see the light at the end of the tunnel. What New Yorkers do not need in this time of crisis is a politico more concerned about his own prospects for the future than the prospects of those struggling to put food on the table.
For all his chatter about his potential opponent Senator Kristen Gillibrand being a parakeet, towing the party line, he himself is equal parts establishment and political chameleon. Flashback to his Tennessee Senate race: if you closed your eyes, you'd think Ford was a white male republican. He pandered to the conservative base in the state to increase his chances of being elected. Then, he was against same-sex marriage, pro-gun, and vaguely pro-life. To win over New Yorkers he now favors civil unions and same-sex marriage, is pro-gun control, pro-labor union and pro-choice.
It's a good thing for Ford that New Yorkers are more concerned with pocketbook issues like jobs, the economy and healthcare, and less concerned about social issues like marriage equality and abortion. But on those pocketbook issues, he does not fare much better. As Vice Chairman at Merrill Lynch in 2007, the beginning of the recession, Ford was one of the suits that received a huge bonus despite the impending economic crisis.
What about his connection and ties to average people living and working in New York? Virtually non-existent. When asked whether or not he had ever visited Staten Island, he referenced his helicopter landing there once. Asked about his other connections to regular New Yorkers, he pointed to being police officer for the day and donating money to the state's police fund.
What about Black people--will they vote for him? Harold is no Barack. Good looking, yes, but he lacks the sincerity and vision of an Obama. It is hard to tell if African-Americans will turn out for Ford, but unless he is able to demonstrate that he will work hard on their behalf and shares their concerns, it is not likely. And given the hardships facing communities of color in New York, and Blacks in particular, skin color connection will only get him so far.
One last thing. In the poll conducted by Ford, he tested a number of slogans and themes rooted in change and reform. He wants New Yorkers to see him as an outsider and as someone who can clean up the state and his opponent as a part of the problem and establishment. Get another playbook; that play has already been run. New Yorkers won't be fooled by a slick campaign and even slicker politician.
Harold Ford has a steep hill to climb. Not only does he have to convince New Yorkers that he is the right man for the job, he has to convince the most vulnerable in the state that he will work hard for them as well. He will have to put his own political aspirations in check and be willing to roll up his sleeves.
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