BUFFALO, NY - The man considering a primary election challenge against Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spent Thursday afternoon meeting voters at a famous Buffalo eatery.
Former U.S. Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., a Tennessean, has not exactly been a New Yorker for very long, but he may be on the brink of landing a powerful, local endorsement.
While Ford speaks with a slight southern drawl, and does not even have a New York State drivers license yet, he does know how to run for office. After narrowly losing a U.S. Senate race in Tennessee in 2006, Ford, a Democrat, moved to Manhattan and went to work on Wall Street. Three years later, he is considering running against Gillibrand, whom Governor David Paterson appointed to the Senate Seat after Hillary Clinton resigned to become U.S. Secretary of State.
As he shook hands and ate spaghetti parmesan at Chef's Restaurant in Buffalo, Ford asked patrons about the economy, and what they would like to see leaders in Washington do to improve it.
"Jobs, taxes, the economy, foremost on people's minds everywhere," Ford said.
REPORTER: Do you think that you've lived in New York State long enough to understand upstate issues?
FORD: Sir, I don't know what the answer to that question is -- is it 10 years? Is it 20 years? Is it one year? I think the way voters measure it may be different than the way you measure it. At the end of the day, this seat has been held, this particular senate seat has been held by people who did not live upstate, as a matter of fact, who have lived upstate for a shorter period of time I have.
Perhaps just as important as what Ford said was that he said it alongside Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who is rumored to be among the top prospects for Lieutenant Governor if Attorney General Andrew Cuomo runs for Governor of New York, as expected. Ford spent the afternoon with Brown.
REPORTER: Is Harold Ford the kind of candidate, if he gets into the race officially, you could see yourself endorsing?
MAYOR BROWN: He certainly is that kind of candidate, that kind of person. He's very bright. He seems extremely hard working.
Ford said he will announce whether he's running later this month. He also took at shot at Senator Gillibrand.
"So, in short, all I can do is continue to travel, and continue to listen," Ford said. "I know that I read when I was in Syracuse that the person I'm considering running against, the senator who was appointed to the job, had only been to Syracuse twice since she's been senator, and by the time I go back Sunday, I will have equalled the number of times in just a month."
A spokesperson for Gillibrand quickly fired back, referring to Ford's Wall Street job. "Merrill Lynch Vice Chairman Harold Ford Jr. has gotten his facts wrong again," Gillibrand Spokesperson Glen Caplin wrote to 2 On Your Side. "Not only has Senator Gillibrand visited all 62 counties in the state, she has held over 20 events in Western New York and over a dozen in Central New York alone. This is just another attempt by Merrill Lynch Vice Chairman Ford to not answer questions about whether he has received a taxpayer-backed bonus from Merrill Lynch."
Gillibrand will be in the Buffalo area Friday to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the crash of Flight 3407 in Clarence. While here, she also plans to meet with Mayor Brown. Brown said that this will be their first "one-on-one" meeting. Senator Gillibrand's spokesperson said the two have met several times with other officials present.