Ford vs. Cohen: Again? This Time the Candidate's First Name Could be Justin

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Justin Ford doing his morning shape-up
  • JB
  • Justin Ford doing his morning shape-up

Talk about following family tradition: Justin Ford, the first-term Shelby County commissioner and member of the well-known political clan, not only is involved in the family funeral-home business (and considering opening up his own independent establishment), he’s thinking of making a political race that would have him treading in the footsteps of other Fords.

That race? One for Congress, he confided while doing a daily morning workout Thursday on an elliptical cross trainer at ATC Fitness in Lakeland. Against Steve Cohen, a fellow Democrat and the incumbent congressman in the 9th District? “Against whoever,” Ford shrugged. (Inasmuch as he holds the Position 3, District 3 commission seat, which is well within the confines of the 9th Congressional District, both the question and the answer were more rhetorical than not.)

If the 25-year-old commissioner — elected last year to succeed his father, Joe Ford, who had gone on to serve as interim county mayor — really does end up making the congressional race, he will become the fourth member of the extended Ford family to compete against Cohen for the seat. Cousin Harold Ford Jr. won the Democratic primary against Cohen in 1996, and cousin Jake Ford, running as an independent, lost to Cohen, the Democratic nominee, in 2006. Also running in what had been a crowded Democratic primary that year was Justin Ford's brother, Joe Ford Jr.

Last year, running for a third term against former Mayor Willie Herenton, which he won easily, Cohen had the public support of former congressman Harold Ford Sr., the family patriarch, and the implied support of Harold Ford Jr.

If Justin Ford intends to become a congressman, he would be of age to do so as early as next year, but just barely. The Constitution requires that members of the U.S. House of Representatives be 26 years old.

The congressional balloon is not the only one being floated by Commissioner Ford. He acknowledges that he’s thought of challenging current Shelby County Democratic Chair Van Turner for the chairmanship of the local party, but he owns up to being unsure if he has the votes in hand or if that’s where his fancy really lies.

Ford’s experience so far on the commission seems to have whetted his appetite for taking public stands on hot-button issues, and he isn’t averse to crossing over to vote, as his father did, with the commission’s Republicans on issues that break along party lines. Ford’s answer to that one is simple: “There are a lot of Democrats, regular voters, who’ve sided with the Republicans recently.” He goes on to suggest that several public issues need to be re-evaluated in light of that fact.

So far Commissioner Ford has more or less let his votes speak for him, keeping to a tradition of relative modesty that once characterized legislative first-termers and eschewing the kind of definitive speeches that characterize his more established colleagues (and several fellow newcomers on the commission, for that matter).

That reticence may change, however, as he finds his profile shaping up in the public mind. "The media ought to pay more attention to someone as young as I am doing what I'm doing," he says, indicating that he intends to offer more precise definitions of exactly what that is, or will be, in the very near future.

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