Other than former Mayor Willie Herenton no other political figure in Memphis history has been as much of a lightning rod for controversy as John Ford.
But as he nears the end of his five and a half year prison sentence for a bribery conviction in the infamous Tennessee Waltz political corruption scandal, is it possible Ford could rise from the ashes and return to the political spotlight?
If you peered hard enough through the dark tint on the windows of the E. H. Ford Mortuary you could see his fleeting shadow. For now Ford is going through the motions of finishing out the darkest days of his life as a convicted felon.
Late in 2012, he was released from a Yazoo, Miss., prison to a Memphis halfway house to serve out the rest of his sentence. Yet, before a gaggle of reporters Ford appeared curiously upbeat about his uncertain future.
"You watch what I do," he said. "I am not down. I am not out. I'm way out in front."
Since that cryptic response, he has remained mum. But, as has usually been the case throughout his tumultuous career and personal triumphs and pitfalls, others have been talking about Ford. Especially, as to whether it's possible he can resurrect his seemingly shattered political fortunes, potentially at the expense of current District 29 incumbent, his sister, State Sen. Ophelia Ford.
"John's being very mysterious about his future," said Jackson Baker, Memphis Flyer columnist. "But, knowing John Ford and knowing that he is a bit of a dynamo, when he pushes all of his buttons or when somebody else pushes all his buttons, he's got to have something going on other than hanging out at his brother's funeral home."
Of course the question of whether Ford, as a convicted felon, could legally run for public office is still up in the air. He figures to go through the routine procedure of having his voting rights restored. By phone, a spokesperson from the election commission said although they couldn't comment directly on Ford's status as a candidate they'd have to wait and see if a potential candidacy would be challenged in court.
"A citizen could conceivably take a John Ford candidacy to Chancery Court and challenge it there," said Bill Dries of the Memphis Daily News. "That's about where the challenge would come. Or if John Ford ran in a party primary for a state legislative seat in 2014, the local Democratic Party could take some actions and say he's not our nominee."
But, in the eyes of his former constituents is the former 31-year legislative veteran still electable? People FOX13 News spoke with expressed mixed reactions.
"He did his time and we're lawyers. So I believe you did your time, you can't be punished for the rest of your life," said Kathleen Ball, Memphis attorney. "So, if he's elected, he's elected."
"Of course it's a bad thing for a known felon," said Juan Williams, who is against Ford running for future office. "He's been convicted of a felony, so, it's always a bad thing."
"The Fords have done some great things for this community, so I support that," said Jessica Westbrook, Memphis attorney. "I support that. So, I support John Ford, too."
"He is a Ford and he is a narcissist Ford at that," said Ben Ferguson, political commentator. "I would be shocked and disappointed and saddened if the constituents that he obviously did not care about when he was taking bribes would re-elect him to that seat again."
While Ford was somewhat prophetic about the loss of power the Shelby County delegation has suffered, even if he regains his legislative seat through the ballot box, the days of Ford's effectiveness and influence could be lessened as well.
"The void I leave is going to be tough," Ford said in 2005. "They not going to be able to fill that whoever gets elected, it's going to take them a while."
"My question would be does he have any interest in being part of the minority party in the state senate where the Republicans hold a super majority?," Dries questioned.
"Even though his constituents might elect him if there were something he could be elected to, I think that his reputation is still such that he would have a hard time picking up where he left off," said Jackson Baker.
"If you're up in Nashville, would you want to work with a guy that everyone knows took bribes?," asked Ferguson. "I wouldn't want to be associated with him. People that would be thinking about that would have to look at that and say, this maybe is the guy who did have a ton of influence, quite possibly cause he was buying that influence.'"
But, then Ford was convicted on only one count of five he faced in his original federal trial. He beat the odds again in getting a conviction and a 14-year prison sentence overturned after another federal trial in Nashville.
Resilient? Yeah, that's what John Ford is.
"John's a strong individual. He's the type of guy who can bounce back from just about anything," said Michael Scholl, Ford's defense attorney. "So, if anybody could make a comeback on anything, it'd be John.
WHBQ-TV | Fox 13
Didn't find what you were looking for?