State representative candidate for the 8th district LaShawn Ford never left Austin. He easily could have as a successful real estate entrepreneur. But he didn’t. Now Ford, 33, the adopted grandson of Jesse Ford and who never knew his biological father, has thrown his hat into the political arena. But it’s not his first time running for elected office. Ford failed in two previous bids to unseat incumbent Calvin Giles. He takes a third crack at Giles in next week’s March 21 primary.

Ford said he’s running again primarily because he wants to “undo the damage that current State Rep. Calvin Giles has inflicted on the 8th district.”

But Ford has no experience as an elected official. He also admittedly is not the ideal candidate among many local politicians. And two previous failed bids to unseat Giles may not look good on a political resume, especially for someone with such lofty ambitions for himself and the district. But Ford’s success in business didn’t come by playing it safe, he’ll point out.

From real estate to politics

Ford has carved a niche for himself as a businessman in Austin. But he admits that he has to get more up to speed on the complexities of the issues facing the 8th district and with the legislative process in Springfield.

Ford attended Weber Catholic High School, and later attended Loyola University, receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education, with a minor in political science. He later taught five years at Bridge Elementary School.

He purchased his first building at age 20, a property located only a few doors down from his family home. He started Ford Desired Real Estate in 2000, a move that surprised many friends and relatives.

“Many people thought I was crazy when I just left Bridge after five years and pursued establishing this firm with little more than the help of one other real estate agent and just a belief that it would work,” he recalled.

The risk apparently paid off. Ford Desired Real Estate – originally located at 5104 W. Chicago, currently his campaign headquarters, and later relocating to its present 5714 W. Division site, has become highly successful.

Growing up, Ford lived with his sister Sandra Roach and Aunt Barbra Williams, who he said were instrumental in teaching him values, education and having a firm spiritual foundation.

“My grandmother worked as a CNA for 35 years at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and she always told me that working hard and setting goals were not only the keys to success, but also the keys to effecting community change as well,” he said.

Unchartered political waters

Ford currently is working with developers, clergy and Cong. Danny K. Davis to rehab HUD foreclosures in the district. Davis, who Ford worked with last summer on a Hurricane Katrina relief, though, has thrown his support behind Giles.

Giles, who has held the office for 12 years, said that Ford has ‘no seniority’ and would be hard pressed to achieve the level of support from House veterans who will surely look at his rookie status as a detriment.

And if Giles has truly been a “do-nothing” politician, as Ford mentions relentlessly when asked about his opponent, why does he continued to get re-elected?

Ford countered such a question by noting that among Giles’ “few supporters” are 37th ward Ald. Emma Mitts, who has held office since 2001, less than half the length of time that Giles has.

“Don’t you think that he should be able to garner a bit more support than he’s receiving?” Ford asked about Giles. “How can a man be in office for 12 years, yet most of the support from newspapers is calling for an end to his run as state representative?”

Ford added that Giles has introduced 19 bills in his tenure, all having failed. But hundreds of bills are introduced any given year, according to most General Assembly records, and only a select few ever reach the House floor. Ford, though confident that he can do more, said he recognizes that there is a legislative process that he has to learn.

“I think I will be able to command a level of support from the House where we are all going to interface and be on the same wavelength about what needs to be accomplished in the district,” he said.

So, is Ford ready to sit and wait as some of his bills languish for months without ever reaching the House floor or possibly die altogether? He believes so.

Ford did celebrate a recent political victory of sorts having led the effort to get an ex-offender referendum on the March 21 ballot for the 24th, 28th, 29th and 37th wards.

“I think that if you are an ex-offender and have served your time for a non-violent offense you deserve the right to be considered and at least interviewed before your record comes into question,” said Ford.

However, the wording of the referendum doesn’t specify what “a reasonable amount of time after completing a sentence” is. When is a reasonable amount of time and who is responsible for evaluating an ex-offenders’ rehabilitation to assure that they are indeed reformed are other questions?

Ford, though, insists that while the language is unclear, the over goal is.

“We want non-violent ex-offenders to be able to join the workforce after they have served their sentences.”

Ford has one daughter, Tia, who will turn two on March 26, and said he plans to marry her mother Tieneh Harris in the near future.

Ford said he wants to impact the state of early childhood development by recommending federal funds be allocated towards more programs like HeadStart.

“I completely disagree with (CPS Chief Executive Officer) Arne Duncan’s assertion that we need to ‘lower the standards’. That’s ridiculous,” he said.

And if elected, Ford said he’s ready to downgrade his involvement in his business to focus on the district.

“I have a real estate partner and independent agents that will oversee the business if I must re-locate to Springfield,” Ford said. “I will still have the final say in all business dealings even from Springfield. I will not be there physically as much, but I still am in charge of the decision-making.”

General Assembly
-Work on legislation to improve the Illinois Department of Corrections and rehabilitati on services for inmates
-Develop legislation to reduce the reliance on property taxes to fund education

-Support funding for early childhood education
-Place a legal limit on class size

Quality of Community Life
-Work with the entire 8th district to reduce crime
-Build incentives in employment plans to motivate employers to support and protect the rights of workers.

Health Care
-Build more comprehensive mental health programs
-Prevent obesity in kids with nutritious school lunches
-Help improve access to prescription drugs, especially for seniors

?”courtesy of the Ford campaign