Ford leaves mark on service organizations, cityWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“A mighty tree has fallen.”
That’s how Jack Ford’s close friend and former co-worker John L. Edwards Sr. described the death of the Toledo City Councilman and Toledo’s first black mayor.
John Marshall “Jack” Ford, 67, died March 21 at ProMedica Toledo Hospital, where he was transported after going into cardiac arrest at his Toledo home. Ford had been in poor health for years, battling kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. But he remained an active voice in the community and local government, where he was serving as an at-large City Councilman.
Ford is the third Toledo mayor to die this year. Former Mayor John McHugh, who served 1990-93, died Jan. 30 and sitting Mayor D. Michael Collins died Feb. 6, also from cardiac arrest.
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Edwards, who is executive director of Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program (UMADAOP) Lucas County, met Ford in the 1970s when both worked for the Ohio Youth Commission.
“He was a career social worker,” Edwards said. “I maintain he always was at heart, even though he had other things on his resume. He was always wanting to help people.”
In lieu of flowers for his funeral, Ford’s family suggested donations to UMADAOP, whose mission is to provide prevention, treatment, recovery support and re-entry services in order to help children, families and communities have healthy and productive lifestyles, Edwards said.
“In addition to the fact that he and I were very, very close friends for almost 40 years, he sort of bonded with our agency not only because of the ups and downs we experienced and managed to overcome over the years, but because we always tried to maintain ethics and provide good stewardship over the public trust,” Edwards said. “Those are things that really, really, really meant a lot to Jack.
“Our service work is committed to providing community-based services that attempt to reach people without giving thought to their ability to pay for services, or where they live or their race, gender or any of those things. We’re come as you are. I think that meant a great deal to him.”
A common perception of Ford as sleepy or slow-moving may have been true of his appearance, but wasn’t true of his mind, Edwards said.
“It was certainly part of his personality, but I think he used that. I think it kept people off balance,” Edwards said. “They thought of him as this slow-moving, half-asleep guy. But beyond that outside persona, this guy was moving at light speed.”
Ford was also funny, Edwards said.
“What I will miss most personally is something many people rarely had a chance to see or experience, and that was his sense of humor,” Edwards said. “He could have you literally on the floor with laughter.”
Both avid readers and Ohio State football fans, Ford and Edwards forged a quick and lasting friendship.
“I say unashamedly he was one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known,” Edwards said. “He would challenge me with things he had read. He’d do a pop quiz right on the spot.”
Ford especially enjoyed reading about President Abraham Lincoln.
“He was a student of Lincoln,” Edwards said. “I think it was that his presidency occurred during the period that the country began to experience a great wave of change. And the fact that he came from very humble beginnings but managed to rise to become president of the nation.”
Ford was born in Springfield, Ohio, in 1947. He played football for Woody Hayes at The Ohio State University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work. He later attended the University of Toledo, where he earned a law degree and a master’s degree in public administration.
He was elected mayor in 2001. Among his proudest accomplishments were helping to establish CareNet, a health care program for low-income county residents, and balancing the city budget despite tough economic conditions, Edwards said.
“He was proud of the fact he saw the city through some tough times in terms of the budget,” he said. “He felt he steered the city through some very murky waters.”
“We balanced the budget without raising taxes, cutting essential services or by laying off safety personnel during very tough economic times,” Ford told Toledo Free Press in 2005. “We are spending $10 million less than my predecessor spent in 2001. If I was a corporate CEO, I would be getting a bonus for this performance.”
Ford was also proud of the city’s increased block watch presence.
“We have increased the number of block watches in Toledo from 59 to 180 since I took office,” he told TFP in 2005.
During his administration, Ford also initiated a controversial citywide indoor smoking ban in 2003, which was later enacted statewide.
In 2013, while running for City Council, Ford told TFP he believed voters would be attracted to his years of government experience.
Ford served on Council from 1988-94, serving as president in 1994. His career also included time on the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education and in Columbus as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives. He also taught at the University of Toledo and other local colleges.
“I have experience working at different levels of government, and I’m going to use that experience to make informed decisions while I am on Council, in relation to policy decisions and budget,” Ford said.
In 2005, during his bid for a second term as mayor, Ford told TFP he had come to realize perhaps he hadn’t trumpeted his mayoral accomplishments enough.
“I have not spent enough time pointing out our successes,” he said. “I always assumed that my accomplishments would speak for themselves; this campaign has taught me that the message does not always get out on its own.”
Ford said he decided to run for Council in 2013 after seeing prevailing issues facing Toledo.
“I saw the deterioration of housing in the older neighborhoods, and no one else was talking about it. I decided to make blight a big issue in my campaign, and in a way, it has become one of the big issues in this election,” Ford said in 2013. “Financial management of taxpayer funds is always a big issue. Cutting red tape is a big issue for business people who want to start or to continue to grow a business inside Toledo. And we don’t have coordinated efforts on youth programs and crime reduction.”
While pointing to the advantage of his experience, Ford was quick to point out fresh ideas are needed in government as well.
“I’ve had the broadest experience of anyone running, and experience counts. Some of the decisions made in the future need someone with history to base their decisions on. My experience will help with that, but you need a mix of experience and new people with new ideas,” Ford said.
One of Ford’s more recent focuses was battling blight in the city.
He spearheaded the formation of a Blight Authority, made up of a dozen or so members of the community from real estate agents to lawyers. The group had its first meeting in October and will continue to meet.
Ford attended many of those meetings, said chairman George Thomas, a lawyer.
“He was very, very encouraging and tried to challenge us and move us forward as much as possible,” Thomas said. “When he came to the meeting he was actually the leader in the room. He had a deep understanding of how the city works and how politics work and he could move the meeting forward.
“I definitely had that sense that he was a force when he wanted to get something done. He was very encouraging and helpful to move it forward.”
The Blight Authority is charged with eliminating blight, encouraging citizens to take responsibility for improving their neighborhoods and being a source of resources for citizens, Thomas said.
The group is broken into three committees: best practices, which looks at other cities and how to get citizens involved; programs; and fundraising. Progress has been made, but there’s still a ways to go, Thomas said. Ideas and action plans have been developed, but there’s no budget or staffing.
“So far, the process has been focused on identifying some realistically best practices we can work on,” he said.
Some ideas the committee has been working on include outreach to connect to community volunteers, education, forming a “blight boot camp,” renting a trailer that can be used to store tools for cleaning up neighborhoods and working with school kids.
Group members are also working with the city’s Department of Neighborhoods on how they might collaborate with existing programs.
“We need to be realistic about what we can achieve,” Thomas said.
The group wants money allocated by the city, but there is no money earmarked for the Blight Authority in this year’s budget, Thomas said.
Many in the city and state have been affected by Ford’s work, but Jan Ruma can pinpoint exactly how many, at least in her corner of the world — 27,823.
That’s how many individuals have been assisted by Toledo/Lucas County CareNet, where Ruma has served as executive director since November 2002.
“The reason there is a CareNet is because of Jack Ford,” Ruma said. “If there wasn’t a Jack Ford, there wouldn’t be a CareNet. He’s a man of his word.”
During Ford’s first State of the City address as mayor in 2002, he challenged area hospitals to come together for the uninsured. Hospitals were already doing a lot, but Ford galvanized each to do more, Ruma said.
What resulted was an innovative approach to offering health care for low-income citizens. Now with President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act in place, CareNet’s mission has changed slightly, but its focus on helping and serving the uninsured remains, she said.
“He very successfully used his role as mayor to address a serious health care issue,” Ruma said. “So I think that of any elected official, definitely in this area and possibly this state, that Jack Ford has had the biggest impact on accessibility to health care. He was all-in.”
The program is designed to have Toledo’s mayor serve as chairman of the board, and thus Ford was its first.
Ruma recalled having less than two months before CareNet would first be made available to the public Jan. 1, 2003, and she didn’t think it was possible to have it ready in time. Ruma was hoping for much longer than the extra 15 days Ford would ultimately offer, but “he was very kind, and we could have thought of all kinds of reasons not to do it. He didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. His philosophy was ‘Just do it, we can’t make it any worse.’ And his philosophy was right.”
Even after he left office, Ford remained active in CareNet’s mission, often attending fundraising events but remaining out of the limelight, Ruma said.
“He made it his passion and role, and you can’t say no to Jack Ford,” Ruma said. “Jack was just the champion that brought all those organizations together.”
Another organization Ford proudly supported was Adelante, a social service agency that specializes in serving area Latinos.
“Personally, the man was a visionary and saw potential in the Latino community,” said Guisselle Mendoza, who has served on staff for seven years and as executive director since February 2014.
Adelante’s mission is to serve and empower individuals throughout Northwest Ohio through education, prevention, health, economics and other social services.
Mendoza said Ford was involved with its operation since the start, and even before its founding in 1995. During a meeting Mendoza had with Ford in September, Ford recalled Adelante’s beginnings in the late 1980s, when he was asked to create a treatment program for Hispanic adults suffering from heroin abuse.
Just after its inception, Ford wanted to expand the program beyond counseling, and turn it into the lifestyle center it is today, but he was met with opposition by others on staff. Once Ford helped to create an advisory board, the center started a program for youth and then abused women, and Adelante really took off, Mendoza said. Adelante has served 800-1,000 people in the past five years, she said.
“I will be forever thankful to him for paving the way for Adelante,” Mendoza said. “I hope that others like him, given the opportunity, can create change and opportunity within our community. I was very saddened to hear of his passing and he will never be forgotten by me or Adelante.”
Ford was also a strong supporter and friend to Family House for many years, director Renee Palacios said.
When he discovered the city had cut funding for the food service program at the organization — the largest homeless shelter for families in Northwest Ohio — he took action, she said.
“When [Ford] found out that under the [Mayor Mike] Bell administration, money for our food service was eliminated, he basically did not stand for that,” Palacios said. “He wanted to know what was going on and how were families being fed. He brought me to City Council to explain that.”
Posted to Family House’s Facebook page is the message: “Thank you, Mayor/Councilman Ford for your years of support for Family House. Your spirit, compassion and advocacy will be missed.”
Palacios said Ford learned of the cut funds two years ago during the polar vortex, when temperatures regularly dipped below freezing. Funds were cut because the city determined Family House residents could use other food programs in the area, Palacios said. Young mothers, children and pregnant women were having to walk in the freezing temperatures just to get a meal, she said, and Ford did not stand for that.
“He made it his mission to resurrect feeding people at Family House. He thought homeless families should not be walking around looking for a meal,” Palacios said.
Ford, along with Councilwoman Sandy Spang, found a commercial stove and negotiated its price from $10,000 to $3,000 for Family House so they could continue cooking and serving food to their homeless families, Palacios said.
“He was the first one to pause and say ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t right,’” she said. “He wasn’t a politician who just pushed it through, pushed it through. He stopped and said ‘Wait a minute. Why is this going on? That’s not fair.’ That’s the kind of man he was.”
Ford had lunch many times at Family House and always paid, she said. He got to know the families and always came to talk to people.
“We’ve had important people in Family House many times and he was not here to be seen and be important,” Palacios said. “He came in and went straight to the lunchroom and talked to every single family he could talk to while he was here, especially the kids. He would sit at their level as they came into lunch. He was truly a gentle giant.”
Ford came to his last meal at Family House at Christmas. The organization’s board members had prepared a meal to say ‘thank you’ for the stove, she said.
Family House serves 300 families every year and is the second-largest family shelter in Ohio.
“[Ford] jump-started the program for us and put it on the radar,” Palacios said.
Ford was also a strong advocate for minority inclusion, often advocating for certain percentages of city contracts to be awarded to minority-owned businesses or minority contractors.
Unanswered questions about the percentage of minority contractors to be employed during building was among the reasons Ford cited in January for casting Council’s lone “no” vote on ProMedica’s move Downtown.
“Jack was one of the few politicians in Toledo’s history who truly understood that the best way to revitalize an under-served community economically was to give members of those communities a fair shot at public contracts,” said Jay Black Jr., president of the Toledo African American Chamber of Commerce. “I remember him holding a one-person press conference opposing the construction of the Mud Hens stadium unless they were willing to include minorities during its construction phase and committing to hire minorities after its completion.
“As mayor, a centerpiece of his platform was to include more minorities and women in the City of Toledo’s contracting process. He felt so strongly about this issue of fairness that he was willing to risk his political career over it. Many believe he lost his mayoral re-election bid largely because of this issue,” Black said. “He continued to challenge the status quo on this issue in other political positions he held after being mayor.”
Visitation and funeral
Visitation will be 3-6 p.m. March 29 at Warren AME Church, 915 Collingwood Blvd., with a program from 6-7 p.m. The funeral service will be noon March 30 at the church. Doors open at 11:15 a.m.
Another visitation and funeral service will take place in Springfield on March 31 followed by burial. All services are open to the public. Cards may be sent to Ford’s family in care of The House of Day Funeral Service, 2550 Nebraska Ave., Toledo, OH 43607.
City Council has 30 days to appoint someone to fill Ford’s vacant at-large seat. Letters of interest and resumes must be submitted by April 2. Council plans to vote April 14. The appointed person will serve until November, when a new Council member is elected during the general election.
Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Sarah Ottney, Managing Editor Joel Sensenig, News Editor Danielle Stanton and Associate Editor Tom Konecny contributed to this report.