By HAROLD FORD Jr.
WHEN it was reported two months ago that I was thinking seriously about running for the United States Senate from New York, Democratic Party insiders started their own campaign to bully me out of the race — just as they had done with Representatives Carolyn Maloney, Steve Israel and others.
But as I traveled around New York, I began to understand why the party bosses felt the need to use such heavy-handed tactics: They’re nervous. New Yorkers are clamoring for change. Our political system — so bogged down in partisan fighting — is sapping the morale of New Yorkers and preventing government at every level from fulfilling its duty.
The cruel twist, of course, is that the party bosses who tried to intimidate me so that I wouldn’t even think about running against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who had been appointed to the seat by Gov. David A. Paterson, are the same people responsible for putting Democratic control of the Senate at risk.
These are tough times, and the New Yorkers I have met are facing economic adversity with grace and dignity. They worry about their future, care about their neighbors and hope this storm will pass so they can focus on better days ahead. And yet too few in the Democratic Party are really willing to break with orthodoxy to meet these challenges. We need leaders as good as the people they represent — leaders focused on creating jobs, keeping taxes low, helping small businesses and restoring faith in government.
Voting for health care legislation that imposes billions in new taxes on New Yorkers and restricts federal financing for abortions is not good for the people of this state. Voting against critical funds necessary to ensure the survival of the financial services industry — the economic backbone of this state — is not good for the people of New York.
I was considered out of touch with mainstream Democrats when I argued against spending more than $200 million a year to hold the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial in New York. I was also labeled out of touch for advocating a payroll tax cut for small businesses and for putting a jobs bill before a scaled-down health reform bill. Though much more needs to be done to create jobs, I am pleased that these ideas have now become part of the Democratic mainstream.
Yet the party has been too slow to change. The effects of its lack of flexibility have been clear in a series of worrisome political events: Ted Kennedy’s “safe” Senate seat was lost to a Republican; Evan Bayh of Indiana and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced they weren’t running for re-election; Senate seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin and Delaware now seem to be in jeopardy; New York’s state government faces even more controversy and challenge.
There are compelling reasons for me to run. I believe New Yorkers are hungry for a new direction in government. Our elected officials have spent too much time this past year supporting a national partisan political agenda — and not enough time looking out for their own constituents.
New Yorkers aren’t asking for much. A jobs bill that cuts taxes for the middle class and invests in the future; a health care system that doesn’t bankrupt people when they get sick; and public schools that lay the groundwork for children to take advantage of all the future holds.
I believe raising these issues over the last two months has forced Democrats and Republicans alike to do better. And I will continue holding their feet to the fire. But I will not do so as a candidate for Senator from New York.
I’ve examined this race in every possible way, and I keep returning to the same fundamental conclusion: If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary — a primary where the winner emerges weakened and the Republican strengthened.
I refuse to do anything that would help Republicans win a Senate seat in New York, and give the Senate majority to the Republicans.
I realize this announcement will surprise many people who assumed I was running. I reached this decision only in the last few days — as I considered what a primary campaign, even with the victory I saw as fully achievable, would have done to the Democratic Party.
I am a Democrat. But I am an independent Democrat. I am not going to stop speaking out on behalf of policies that I think are right — regardless of ideology, party or political expediency. I plan to continue taking this message across our state and across our nation.
Harold Ford Jr. was a United States representative from Tennessee from 1997 to 2007.
Source: New York Times