Ford, Jack 1947–
Jack Ford 1947–
On November 6, 2001, Jack Ford won a surprising victory over his opponent in the mayoral race in Toledo, Ohio. His triumph over a well known county treasurer, who was far better funded, was just one of the remarkable aspects of the election. Even more astounding was Ford’s margin of victory: with over sixty percent of the vote, his win qualified as a landslide victory. It was not the first time that Ford had staged such an upset. After a career as a youth counselor and director of a drug-treatment program, he had easily won election to Toledo’s City Council in 1987 in his first run for elective office. In his subsequent council bids Ford emerged as the top vote-getter in the city, a fact that led to his appointment as president of Toledo’s City Council in 1993. After leaving his council post to assume a vacant seat in the Ohio House in 1994, he again rose to a top leadership position by winning the Ohio Democratic Party’s seat as house minority leader in 1998. With a term-limits provision ending his career in the Ohio State House, Ford decided to run for the top elective office in Northwest Ohio and succeeded in his 2001 bid to become Toledo’s fifty-seventh mayor and the first African American to hold the post.
John Marshall “Jack” Ford was born in 1947 in Springfield, Ohio. He was the second son of Edna and Stanton Ford, who separated when he was just six weeks old and later divorced. Edna Ford married John Watkins six years later and had another son, Bruce Watkins. Working as a cook in a fraternity house at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Edna Ford Watkins sometimes brought home books that students had given her to share with her sons. The books became one of Jack Ford’s most prized possessions. After he entered politics, his voracious reading habits earned him the nickname “The Professor” from some of his colleagues.
As a teenager Ford stood over six feet tall and was a standout player as a guard on the Springfield South High School football team. His playing was good enough to earn an athletic scholarship to Ohio State University (OSU), where he played on a team coached by college-sports legend Woody Hayes until an injury in his sophomore year curtailed his athletic career. The injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it
At a Glance…
Born John Marshall Ford in 1947 in Springfield, OH; son of Edna and Stanton Ford; married Claudia Worthy Ford (divorced, 1990); married Cynthia Hall Ford, March 1992; children: Jessica, (first marriage); Jacqueline, (second marriage); Ryan, (stepson). Education: Ohio State University, BA, social work, 1969; University of Toledo Law School, JD, 1975; University of Toledo, MA, public administration. Religion: Baptist. Politics: Democrat.
Career: Ohio Youth Commission, counselor, 1969-80; University of Toledo, adjunct instructor of political science, 1979-01; Lucas County Substance Abuse Services, Inc., director, 1980-94; City of Toledo, city councilman, 1987-94, mayor, 2002-; Forty-Ninth District, Ohio State House, representative, 1994-01.
Address: Office —Office of the Mayor, One Government Center, Suite 2200, Toledo, OH 43604.
allowed Ford to focus on his studies. He completed his bachelor’s degree in social work at OSU in 1969 and accepted a job as a counselor with the Ohio Youth Commission, which took him to Toledo, Ohio.
Ford worked for the Ohio Youth Commission for eleven years. During his tenure there, he entered the Law School of the University of Toledo, where he completed his J.D. in 1975. Ford later added a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Toledo to his accomplishments. Ford also married the former Claudia Worthy, an attorney, and the couple had one daughter, Jessica. The Fords divorced in 1990 but remained on good enough terms that Ford’s ex-wife later hit the campaign trail on his behalf during his 2001 mayoral run. In 1979 Ford began teaching an African-American politics course at the University of Toledo at the request of a former professor. Ford originally took the class on as a one quarter experiment, but found the class so enlightening and interesting to teach that he offered to continue teaching the course on a regular basis and did so for the next 21 years.
Always interested in politics, Ford served as an advisor in the Toledo city council and Ohio state legislature races of some of his colleagues in the 1970s and 1980s. When his friend, Nelson Grace, left the Toledo school board in 1985 to serve on the Toledo city council, Ford’s name was mentioned as a possible replacement. Yet Ford was passed over for the position, despite his knowledge and experience. The disappointment fueled Ford’s desire to run for elective office. “I felt like I had been done wrong,” he explained to the Toledo Blade in 2001, “From that point on I decided not to take appointments. I was going to run for office the next time I could.” That opportunity came in the 1987 Toledo city council race, which Ford entered and won on his first attempt. It turned out to be the first of his four consecutive terms, and from 1993 onward Ford served as the council president. Although African Americans had served on Toledo city council since the 1940s, Ford was the first African American in the city’s history to hold the title of president.
As a popular city council member, Ford became one of Toledo’s best known politicians during his tenure there. Ford was also well regarded by his political colleagues for his ability to build consensus and avoid open conflict on issues. Donna Owens, a Republican who served as the city’s first female mayor during Ford’s first term on city council, told the Toledo Blade in 2001, “One of the things about Jack, he’s certainly strong for any cause he believes in. He really cared about people improving their lot in life. He always treated me with respect, which, I think, is critically important, especially if you’re a female in an authoritative position.” Ford’s ability to build political support across ethnic and gender lines would indeed prove crucial to his later mayoral bid.
In 1994 Ford left his seat on Toledo City Council to replace Casey Jones in the Ohio House from the state’s 49th district. He later won reelection in 1996, 1998, and 2000, running the last two times unopposed. Although he came from a solidly Democratic district, Ford was at a disadvantage in a state legislature controlled by an overwhelming Republican majority. Although he introduced thirty-six legislative bills during his seven years in the House, only three became laws. In 1998 Ford became the head of the Democrats in the House, making him Ohio’s house minority leader.
In 1992 Ford married Cynthia Holmes Hall. The couple added a daughter, Jacqueline, to their family, which included Hall’s son, Ryan, from a previous marriage. A substance-abuse counselor, Cynthia Ford had a particular interest in working with children. She also proved to be a political asset to her husband on the campaign trail, as Ford told the Toledo Blade in a December 2001 profile of his wife. “She literally won votes for me. I would be at festivals and I would see her talking to a couple or individual for forty minutes. I would go over and apologize for her talking to them so long and they’d say, ‘We weren’t going to vote for you, but now we’re going to.’ After that happened eight or ten times, I learned to shut up.”
Under Ohio’s term-limits law, Ford could not run for his House seat in 2002 and instead decided to enter the Toledo mayoral race. As a late entrant into the election, he faced an uphill battle. A strong Democratic candidate, Lucas County Treasurer Ray T. Kest, was far ahead in the polls and was expected to cruise to an easy victory. As the two emerged from the primary as the candidates in the general election in November of 2001, Ford had acquitted himself well during the debates, even giving himself the nickname “Smilin’ Jack” to poke fun of his sometimes grave public demeanor. Ford also gained the respect of voters for staying away from personal attacks during the election, even after reports surfaced about his opponent’s debts and past allegations of sexual harassment. On election day, helped by several key labor union endorsements and the backing of most of Northwest Ohio’s other elected officials, Ford emerged with an astounding 60.5% of the vote.
With the city experiencing an economic downturn during his first year in office, Ford had to delay some economic development projects and cut funding to several community development programs in order to keep a balanced budget. In his 2003 State of the City address, Ford acknowledged that fiscal responsibility had forced his administration to make some difficult choices but looked forward to implementing several major infrastructure projects, including a $450 million, fifteen-year water-treatment and sewer-construction project. Ford also thanked Toledo voters for passing an $800 million levy to upgrade the city’s public schools, one of his administration’s biggest accomplishments during its first year.
Porter, Tana Mosier, Toledo Profile: A Sesquicentennial History, Toledo Sesquicentennial Commission, 1987.
Toledo Blade, October 28, 2001; November 7, 2001; December 9, 2001; January 3, 2002.
Toledo City Paper, February 27-March 5, 2003.
“Mayor Jack Ford’s State of the City Address 2003,” City of Toledo, Ohio Official Website, www.ci.toledo.oh.us/index.cfm?dept=deptl9nav&page=page3352 (March 12, 2003).
“Mayor’s Biography,” City of Toledo, Ohio Official Website, www.ci.toledo.oh.us/index.cfm?dept=dept19nav&page=page3374 (March 12, 2003).
“Mayor’s Inaugural Address,” City of Toledo, Ohio Official Website, www.ci.toledo.oh.us/index.cfm?dept=dept19nav&page=page2518 (March 12, 2003).
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