Michael Francis Ford, a noted Democratic political strategist, entrepreneur and founder of the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University, died on November 5 at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., after battling melanoma for five years. He was 65.
Over four decades, Mr. Ford served in nine presidential campaigns, holding senior strategic positions for Edward Kennedy in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, Jerry Brown in 1992 and Howard Dean in 2004. In addition, he managed more than 100 gubernatorial, US Senate, US House and mayoral campaigns across the country.
Former Vice President Walter Mondale said in a letter this week: “A man of many gifts, Mike’s greatest gift may have been his ability to inspire young people around him, teach them to be the best versions of themselves, and to understand the importance of giving back to their community and country.”
After graduating from Xavier University in 1970, Mr. Ford remained in Cincinnati, Ohio where his political career blossomed. In addition to numerous local and statewide campaigns, Mr. Ford served as Executive Assistant to Ohio Governor John J. Gilligan. He later served as campaign manager, Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff to Cincinnati Mayor Jerry Springer, and was as an international representative and organizer for AFSCME, AFL-CIO.
In 1980, Ford was part of a cadre of seasoned political veterans who helped lead Senator Edward Kennedy’s challenge to President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic presidential nomination. Among other assignments, Ford managed Kennedy’s crucial Pennsylvania primary win, which breathed new life into the campaign at a critical time.
In 1984, while serving as Deputy Campaign Manager and National Field Director for Vice President Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign, Ford’s persuasive post-primary memos urging an ambitious effort to register minority and union voters and advocating for an “out-of-the box” selection for running mate, were published in The Quest for the Presidency, 1984.
Mike taught and inspired legions of young volunteers and first-time staffers and turned them into the next generation of political professionals.
Writing about Ford in The Quest for the Presidency, 1992 author Peter Goldman described Ford as: “a tough, veteran pol, equally at home in the world of ideas.”
In 1988, Mike and his wife, Sally, founded Bay Communications, a strategic communications firm, consulting for executives of Fortune 500 companies, Democratic national and state parties and caucuses, international unions, and political action committees.
While serving in the 90′s as the Senior Advisor to the Executive Vice President of Internet Operations at Citibank, Mr. Ford created the “Financial Services in the Next Ten Years” White Paper, helping Citibank focus on company-wide long term planning, including voice recognition and A/I, universal/simultaneous multi-lingual translation, and miniature robotics as virtual guides for consumers.
In 1996, Ford created the Affordable Access Trust Inc., a unit investment trust filed with the SEC, designed to package low cost units of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Corporation, at the time trading at $50,000 a share. The Trust was terminated after Buffett to reluctantly created lower cost “Berkshire B shares” at a 96% discount from the “A share” price. The B shares have quintupled in value since then.
A Newsweek article noted the Trust’s extraordinary genesis and impact. “The gestation of the Baby Berkshires began not on Wall Street but in Annapolis, Md., with political consultant Michael Ford, who specializes in working for liberal Democrats. Ford decided he could do well by doing good.”
“I just wanted to let the average person buy a piece of the best investor of our time,” Mr. Ford told Newsweek.
Mr. Ford’s unique career afforded him the chance to consult a variety of clients, ranging from the NBA Players’ Association, the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority, and many technology start-ups. Mr. Ford was even enlisted by the producers of the 1983 film The Dead Zone to help create scenes about a New Hampshire primary election event.
In 2009, Mr. Ford founded the Center for the Study of the American Dreamat his alma mater, Xavier University. The Center serves as the nation’s pre-eminent clearinghouse for information on the state of the American Dream.
As its Founding Director, Mr. Ford led the Center’s efforts in generating significant original research analyzing shifts in the Dream’s continuing evolution. Under Mr. Ford’s leadership, the Center has received significant national attention for its work.
At the time of his death, Mr. Ford was working on a book on the history, meaning, and future of the American Dream, which his family plans to publish posthumously. The book’s genesis comes from his 2012 Washington Post Sunday Outlook 5 Myths opinion piece “Five Myths about the American Dream.”
Mr. Ford’s commentaries appeared in radio and newspapers including The Chicago Tribune, and The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Huffington Post, He appeared on “Larry King Live,” the “Today Show” and CNN’s “Crossfire,” serving as a political analyst and campaign spokesperson.
He lectured at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Ohio State University, American University, University of Cincinnati, Wake Forest University, and the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas.
Mr. Ford was such an avid reader that his home contains a two-story library filled with thousands of books and busts of his Founding Father heroes. His many passions ranged from writing, classical music, American history, financial investing, art collecting, cooking, and his favorite sports teams, most notably the Washington Redskins and Xavier Musketeers basketball.
Mr. Ford was born in Washington, D.C. on June 27, 1948, and grew up in Takoma Park, Md. He attended St. Michael’s School in Silver Spring, Md. and St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C. He received an A.B. from Xavier University in Cincinnati, an M.A. in Government from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and was a Graduate Fellow at the Institute of Public Administration at Penn State University.
Surviving Mr. Ford are his wife Sally, of Glyndon, Md.; a son, Matthew of New York, N.Y.; Mary Jo Ford (Richard) Schneider of Herndon, Va., Patrick (Peggy) Ford of Columbia, Md., Christopher Ford of Detroit, Mich., and Maureen (Dave) Jester of Damascus, Md.; numerous nieces and nephews, and other family and friends.
The family suggests donations in Michael’s memory to the Center for the Study of the American Dream, Xavier University, 3800 Victory Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45207-5471; or to the continuing research efforts at Johns Hopkins University, c/o Dina Mallis Klicos, Kimmel Cancer Center Development Office 750 E. Pratt Street, Suite 1700, Baltimore, Md. 21202. Please indicate that the donation is in memory of Michael Ford.
With heroic symbolism, Mr. Ford died on Election Day.