Black Mayors, White Majorities: The Balancing Act of Racial Politics

By Ravi K. Perry | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
“Lowest and Best” (and Black) Bids
Mayor Jack Ford and the Active
Pursuit of Black Contractors

I see myself not as a politician, but a social worker.

Jack Ford

As Jack Ford closed his inaugural address as Toledo’s first black mayor in January 2002, he quoted Isaiah 58: “House the homeless, clothe the naked, lift the yokes of oppression from the disinherited.” He continued: “We are promised God’s marvelous support and backup if we do these things.”1 Ford’s biblical reference reflected the governing mode and priorities of his administration. Elected in November 2001 with the support of 45 percent of Toledo’s black registered voters, the largest percentage in Toledo’s history,2 Ford shouldered responsibility for nearly 2,800 employees, a $400 million budget, and the health and welfare of approximately 300,000 citizens. He took office during an economic downturn wherein manufacturing-based, heavy industrial rust-belt cities such as Toledo were the first to feel the cuts. He also inherited a $15 million budget deficit from the previous administration. Thus, on the surface, the mayoralty of Toledo in 2001 was in every way the “hollow prize” that Friesema describes.3 Despite Ford’s own description of the contracting effort as a failure, he nonetheless made significant efforts to work on behalf of black interests while mayor, and he did so by presenting black interests as the universal interests of the people of Toledo.4 This chapter considers Ford’s two most significant efforts: the launching of the Center for Capacity Building and the merger of the Department of Affirma-

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