As is often the case, New York and national media often overlook the most interesting elements of a news story. Case in point: Congressional Candidate Vincent Morgan.
While some folks may know him as the hunky Harlem investment banker challenging the legendary Charlie Rangel in Upper Manhattan's 15th Congressional District, Morgan actually offers a far more compelling back-story.
Case in point: The man's a Ford -- as in Harold Ford, Jr.!
Indeed, Morgan is Ford's first cousin -- the son of Harold Jr.'s uncle, John Ford; a long time Tennessee State Senator.
As he and I discussed this morning over breakfast, Morgan grew up poor on Chicago's South Side, raised as an only child by his grandmother and mother -- who met John Ford in her late teens and gave birth to Morgan after a brief relationship.
Morgan did not find out about his illustrious father until his early teens and finally met the Ford family during his years studying at Howard University in Washington, DC. In fact, with barely a year between them, Morgan and Harold, Jr. have led remarkably parallel lives, despite being raised at the opposite ends of the economic scale.
Both went into finance -- Morgan is vice president and community banking officer for TD Bank. Both are involved with politics. And both share the same tell-tale Ford family coloring and features.
But there is much they do not share. Forty year-old Morgan -- married to a film-maker and father to two young kids -- has lived in Harlem for 10 years and is no newcomer to either the city or the 'hood. "There's no carpet-bagging here," he says.
Indeed, he's intimately familiar with Rangel himself -- having helped run the old man's campaign back in 2002.
Morgan also appears to have none of Ford's political baggage. He is firmly pro-choice and unequivically believes in Marriage Equality, a position potentially at odds with many of his prospective Harlem constituents. "Some advisors have warned it would be unwise to support same-sex marriage, but this is just the right thing to do," says Morgan, whose campaign has formed an LGBT campaign committee. "We've let the religious right marshall this debate," he adds. "But to me, this is simply about relationships -- I support same-sex marriage and everyone's right to have their own relationships respected."
Morgan's sentiments are hardly surprising considering his unique background. While many of his cousins -- and 15 half-siblings -- were at prep school like Harold, Jr., "I grew up poor, I dropped out of high school and got some help by people who believed in me," says Morgan who ultimately finished high school before enrolling in Howard and eventually completing graduate school at Columbia University. "I know what it's like to feel like an outsider. I was the 'light-skinned' kid in an all-Black neighborhood, I did not have a father, I was wedged between groups."
Today, Morgan hopes to channel that earlier sense of isolation into unifying Harlem as he challenges Rangel for New York City's coveted 15th Congressional District.
A seat Rangel -- now under investigation for financial misconduct -- has held since 1971.
As for Harold Ford, Jr. -- whom he has met many times -- Morgan says the two ocassionaly bump into each other in social settings, but don't really mix-and-mingle.
And that's fine. "There may be a lot of impressive people in my family, but I am not running as a Ford, I am running as my own man," says Morgan, who was raised far from the Ford's political power-base in Tennessee. "I did not know my father, and at times I have felt a little cheated by that," he adds of John Ford, who is now in Federal prison following a 2007 bribery conviction. "But I suppose it's the same for any kid in that situation."
Almost two months after his announcing his candidacy -- and eight months to go before September's Democratic primary -- Morgan is about to kick his campaign into high gear. This coming Tuesday is an event at Harlem wine bar Nectar, and Morgan will essentially be in full campaign mode thereafter.
It's been a long journey for Vincent Morgan from Chicago's South Side to Harlem, Rangel, Ford and beyond. But despite his modest beginnings and unique family history, the real work is still to come.
LGBT and progressive leaders still reeling from Ford's unexpected arrival take notice: Morgan supports you and needs your help. And as a pro-Gay, pro-choice, pro-community candidate -- he certainly deserves it.
"There are so many people in Harlem and New York with stories like mine," says Morgan, who hopes his youthful zeal will appeal to voters in a district that stretches literally from the Upper West Side to Washington Heights. After 40 years of Rangel & Co. in office, "Harlem is ready for change."