Ford’s New York Senate Candidacy Freshly Imperiled by His Ties to Bank of America



Prospective Senate candidate Ford
  • Prospective Senate candidate Ford
Former Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., an all-but-formally-declared candidate for the U.S. Senate in New York, may have taken temporary leave from his job with Bank of America, but Ford’s political opponents won’t let Bank of America — and its problems — take leave of him.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the incumbent whose seat Ford has declared an interest in, and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, New York’s senior senator and a close Gillibrand ally, are pressing the Bank of America on what they deem a workers’ rights issue, and the public employees union SEIU 32BJ, one of the nation’s largest, has tied the issue directly to Ford.

In a letter to Ford last week, only days before he announced his leave of absence from his vice chairman’s job at BOA, union executive vice president Kevin Doyle decried the recent laying-off of 30 security officers from their jobs at the bank and the loss of health-care coverage last year for 130 other employees.

Said Doyle:

“It is incredible many of these security guards have been left out in the cold while your firm is set to pay out one of its biggest bonus pools ever. Last year Bank of America paid out $3.3 billion in bonuses for 2008 performance, and Merrill Lynch paid out $3.6 billion. Merrill Lynch executives, including you, received these bonuses even though the firm lost $3.8 billion.”

Doyle continued:

“Officers who protect your employees and who live in one of the country’s most expensive cities should not be struggling to support their families while executives make billions in bonuses.

“As you contemplate a run for the Senate, it is time to show your commitment to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers—not just the Wall Street elite. I hope that you will help correct this problem at Bank of America and ensure that the officers at your buildings are restored to their previous positions and have their full benefits restored. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and/or other Bank of America representatives to discuss this further.”

No response from Ford was received in the meantime, but days later, on Tuesday of this week, he announced he would be taking a 30-day leave of absence from the bank to begin a “listening tour” of New York State in advance of a possible Senate run.

And, as the New York Times then reported: “[Ford spokesman Davidson] Pollock noted that the timing of Mr. Ford’s leave coincides with disclosures that are expected in coming days from Wall Street banks about bonuses for employees’ performance in 2009. Mr. Ford has declined to discuss his compensation. At Merrill Lynch, he advises senior management on domestic policy, among other duties.”

In an online article last February the Flyer had been first to speculate on the question of Ford’s possible receipt of a healthy bonus from the Bank of America after the Merrill Lynch company (for which Ford had previously worked as a rainmaker) was absorbed by BOA. The Bank of America continued to employ Ford.

The nation’s taxpayers in effect subsidized the takeover of a belly-up Merrill Lynch by BOA, since the deal required some $20 billion in direct federal funding, plus $188 billion in protection against further losses.

Given that scenario, hackles were raised by the Merrill Lynch division’s payout in late 2008 of some $3.6 billion in bonuses to its executives — after losses for the year of almost $30 billion in the estimation of New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo, a figure considerably more than the $3.8 billion mentioned by Doyle in last week’s letter to Ford.

Cuomo, who invoked the specter of legal action, said the bonuses — ranging from $1 million on the low end to many times more than that for ranking executives — raised “serious and disturbing questions.”

The names of bonus recipients and the amounts paid them by Merrill Lynch have thus far not been revealed, and Ford has brushed aside direct inquiries about payouts to himself, other than to say his relationship with the Merrill Lynch division is “by contract,” with annual compensation estimated by the New York Post at $3 million.

In any case, the current full-court press from SEIU against Ford’s employer and Ford himself has been augmented by similar public pressure from Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, who, in widely publicized statements this week, have called on Bank of America to compensate the dismissed employees.

Given that SEIU has close ties with the two senators and that Schumer, who has publicly called on Ford not to run for the Senate, is well known to be colleague Gillibrand’s chief backer (and Ford’s current chief critic), further publicity linking likely candidate Ford to the bank, its alleged misdeeds, and the volatile issue of bonus payments is probably inevitable — and imminent.

UPDATE #1: The office of U.S. Senator Gillibrand released this statement regarding this article: "If Harold Ford decides to run for Senate in New York, it's clear that he will be running as Wall Street's guy. While Kirsten is working to cut taxes on small businesses that create jobs, Harold is advocating for more Busheconomics -- giveaways to big corporations with no strings attached that do a lot for executives like himself but very little for working people." (The statement came from Gillibrand advisor Jeffrey Pollock.)

UPDATE #2: A synopsis of recent statements by Ford regarding the Merrill Lynch bonus issue:

Ford’s “Salary Is Set By Contract, Period” … “He Does Not Get A Bonus”. According to the NY Daily News, “Aides to Ford, a vice chairman of Merrill Lynch, said yesterday that his ‘salary is set by contract, period.’ ‘He does not get a bonus based on how well the bank does,’ spokesman Davidson Goldin said. Goldin refused to specify Ford's salary but said that ‘if he runs, he will disclose all appropriate financial information.’” [NY Daily News, 1/13/10]

His Spokesman “Declined To Say Whether He’d Received One”. According to Politico, “Ford arrived at the tail of the boom and stayed at Merrill through its absorption by Bank of America and through a controversial round of bonuses at the end of 2008. His spokesman, Davidson Goldin, declined to say whether he’d received one, but New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has requested information on the bonuses from the bank, which received federal support to weather the crisis.” [POLITICO, 1/13/10]

Salary “Set By Contract” According to the Washington Post, “When asked in the interview whether he himself had received a bonus from his employer, his spokesman, Davidson Goldin, interrupted, as he did on other topics not related to Ford's rationale for running, which the media handler understood to be the sole focus of the interview. At that point in the interview, Ford stayed silent, but Goldin later offered that Ford's "salary is set by contract." [Washington Post, 1/15/10]

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