Politics » Politics Feature

Ford Still (or Again) a Candidate to Head Commerce Department



As the Memphis Flyer noted first, as long ago as January 15 ("Ford's Future"), Harold Ford Jr. may be in line to become Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration. The admirable Chuck Todd of NBC and MSNBC is the latest to report such a possibility ("Is Commerce Department Built Ford Tough," msnbc.com), and, as Todd notes, the former Memphis congressman and U.S. Senate candidate and current multi-tasking national celebrity has many points to recommend him. Notes Todd:

On paper, Ford checks a lot of boxes for a an easy-to-confirm nominee for this post: He's a pro-business Democrat (remember, this is Commerce Secretary so the job is to be a promoter of business); he's a former member of the Congressional Black Caucus (you'll recall this whole kerfuffle over control of the census under a Judd Gregg-led Commerce Dept. was started by complaints from the CBC); and he's a practiced spokesperson on TV (the Geithner rollout this week is a reminder that the administration doesn't have enough solid media savvy members of his team who can sell the administration's policies.)

Todd also posits a potential caveat, however:

There is one, potential, gigantic problem: Ford's current place of employment -- Merrill Lynch. Given the current views of Wall Street, Ford's nomination could come under immediate fire and he'd have to disclose exactly what his job was with ML etc. and whether he was one of the 700 million dollar bonus recipients before Merrill completed its sale to Bank of America in late 2008.

Attentive Flyer readers will observe that we took note of that very concern in this space yesterday, Friday, February 13 ("Is Harold Ford Jr. a Merrill Lynch Bonus Baby"), some hours before Todd's own post on the MSNBC site. Though several readers - some friendly, some not - interpreted our post as an "attack" on Ford, it was nothing of the kind. Our article merely raised the same necessary conjecture as would Todd subsequently on the site of one of Ford's current employers, MSNBC.

I might add, parenthetically, that I personally do not find it particularly amiss that the talented Mr. Ford might have benefited from a year-end bonus tendered by yet another employer, Merrill Lynch. Nor did any of the persons friendly to him whom I consulted for my most recent article, all of whom assumed that Ford, as one of the brokerage's prize spokespersons, would have been so rewarded, along with the nearly 700 other bonus recipients.

Yet I fully understand that many would feel otherwise: that Ford -- should he have accepted such a bonus -- would, in effect, have allowed himself to profit from an excessive corporate payout that, as New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo suggests, might indirectly have been funded by the taxpayers themselves via last fall's controversial federal bailout.

So far Ford himself had not spoken on the matter, though at least two commenters locally profess to know, sans presenting any evidence, that Ford was not in fact a bonus recipient. And Todd, too, evidently heard from such persons, presumably better placed than those responding locally. As Todd said in an add-on Saturday morning:

***UPDATE: Ford's folks tell me that he never received a bonus in his time at Merrill Lynch nor was he involved in developing or selling anything having to do with mortgage securities. Ford's job was simply business development and advising clients on domestic or int'l issues. Bottom line: no one close to Ford believes he has a Merrill problem.

That may or may not be "the bottom line," but the Merrill Lynch bonus issue is certainly a line Ford will have to cross at some point in his vetting for a cabinet post or whatever other political or governmental position lies before him. For myself, I wish him well.

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