The University Record, March 18, 2002

Mayor’s story of coming from behind

By Laurel Thomas Gnagey

Ford (Photo by Paul Jaronski, U-M Photo Services)
He was not predicted to win. When Jack Ford entered the Toledo mayoral race, his campaign was a good year behind that of his opponent, a local career politician who had endorsements from all the right people. Ford’s landslide victory was an unparalleled upset that reflected grass roots politics at its best.

Ford, the first Black mayor of the Ohio city, visited U-M March 13 to talk with political science students about his unique campaign. He was a guest lecturer in an African American Politics course taught by Professor Hanes Walton, Jr.

Prior to winning the mayoral race, Ford served as Minority Leader in the Ohio House of Representatives, also a first for an African American. Although his name has appeared on Ohio ballots 11 times, the bulk of his career has been spent in the classroom, 22 years as a political science professor at the University of Toledo. He also ran a drug treatment program for 15 years.

Ford began his story for U-M students by offering a profile of his community, a labor town that he says still considers itself the home of the United Auto Workers. He said Toledo—population 312,000—is a city in decline, suffering a loss of more than 16,000 people in a decade. He described the city as “heavily ethnic,” with large populations of Polish, German and Hungarian people. Blacks comprise 23 percent of the community, Hispanics 5 percent and Asians 2 percent.

Ford’s opponent, County Treasurer Ray Kest was well known in the community. He had endorsements from the labor unions, including those representing police and fire; the chamber of commerce whose business leaders raised $100,000 for his campaign; and from the city newspaper, The Toledo Blade, where Kest’s father had worked for more than two decades. Ford said Kest had a campaign purse of more than $300,000 well before anyone else had even thought about running. Kest used some of the money later to run ads against Ford in the city’s African American newspaper. “So I had the Black newspaper against me,” Ford said.

With all of the community muscle behind his opponent, Ford had to use a different strategy, one that would earn national acclaim. He ran a “clean campaign,” nearly free of mudslinging. His main campaign theme was, “Quiet Leadership for Toledo,” but Ford says it carried with it a sub theme, “It’s not going to be a campaign, it’s going to be a movement.” And that it was, with record numbers of Blacks voting for him.

The Black community also surpassed previous political contributions by raising more than $200,000 for his campaign. Every person he asked for a contribution was encouraged to find 20 friends who would each give $10. “[That was] huge for a central city that heretofore had never given much to a mayoral race.” Ford says his campaign used triple the usual number of yard signs in a further effort to reach deeper into the community.

Ford also was elected by women upset that Kest allowed his wife to take criticism for racking up some $81,000 in credit card bills. Kest, a CPA, campaigned for months claiming to be a sound money manager. Ford said allegations of sexual harassment and barroom brawling late in the campaign also hurt his opponent.