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Ford Gives No Credit to Gay Activists For Withdrawal

Ford Gives No Credit to Gay Activists For Withdrawal

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Some political observers say that energized LGBT activists in New York proved instrumental in prompting Harold E. Ford, Jr. to withdraw his high-profile potential bid for U.S. Senate this past winter, but the former Tennessee congressman said Tuesday that he sees things differently. In fact, the Democratic Leadership Council chairman said that attempts by LGBT activists to take credit for his decision not to run are "wrong."

Ford addressed the role gay activists played in ending his could-be candidacy Tuesday evening after an event cosponsored by Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century and Young Professionals for Change in New York City. The meeting was a holdover invitation from the time between January and March when he contemplated a primary challenge against U.S. senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

"I think people are entitled to their opinions, but they're also entitled to be wrong, and I think they're wrong," said Ford, in response to a question about whether the outcry from LGBT activists factored into his decision not to pursue a senate bid.

During the time he considered a candidacy, Ford came under fire from women's groups, labor unions, and LGBT activists, a key coalition in Democratic primaries dominated by more liberal downstate New York voters. Gay activists in particular objected to Ford's two votes for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006, coupled with accusations from Memphis gay activists that he promised them he would vote against the measure. As a potential senate candidate in 2010, Ford said he had "evolved" to support marriage equality.

The outrage came to a head in late February, when Ford appeared before a raucous crowd at a meeting of the Stonewall Democrats at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender Community Center in Manhattan. Attendees shouted down the former congressman, whom they called a "liar," and a confetti firecracker was fired to punctuate the end of the meeting. Views within the community about the reception, which received widespread coverage and drew comparisons to Tea Party rallies, were mixed.

In early March, Ford announced that he would not run, writing in an op-ed in The New York Times that, although he believed he could defeat Gillibrand, he wanted to avoid an ugly primary battle that would only embolden the Republican opponent.

Ford, an MSNBC political analyst and Merrill Lynch vice chairman, said Tuesday that he still does not understand what all the fuss was about that night at the Stonewall meeting.

"It was strange because I was invited and I accepted the invitation," he said. "It was very spirited, and I respect people's passion, but I do think that if you invited someone you ought to give them a chance to share their views. I still couldn't figure out where the disagreement was. I talked about how my opinions changed over a period of time, which I think is a good thing, and I would hope that over a period of time, that we could have a better relationship."

Despite the sour notes, Ford said he would consider speaking before the group again.

"If I was invited again, naturally, I would consider the invitation," he said.

That might depend on whether Ford runs for office in the future, a prospect he did not rule out Tuesday before a decidedly less hostile crowd of about 70 young professionals. His talk focused largely on the Democrats' midterm election prospects, the economy, and financial regulatory reform pending in Congress.

"Politics is a big part of whom I am, and I hope to be involved for a long time," he said.

As for where Ford may stand with some LGBT activists now, Cathy Marino-Thomas, president of the board of Marriage Equality New York, said she never heard from him about a pledge he made at the Stonewall meeting to help her lobby for marriage, despite her two attempts to follow up.

"I'm done," she said. "He never fulfilled his promise as far as I'm concerned."

Again, Ford sees things differently.

"I've never heard from her since," he said Tuesday.
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