A day prior to his swearing in on Jan. 10, 8th District state representative-elect, LaShawn Ford, his family, friends and supporters, gathered in a Springfield restaurant for a celebratory meal.
Service at the restaurant was maddeningly unhurried though, forcing Ford and his entourage to wait a half an hour to order, and another 45 minutes to be served. All the while, the freshman legislator remained patient, continuing to laugh and talk up his table mates. Eventually, he received his order and was pleased with the meal.
Symbolically, this moment could be a microcosm for what is in store for Ford in the months following his Jan. 10, inauguration to the Illinois House of Representatives, succeeding Calvin Giles, a four-term state rep.
During the ceremony, which was held at the University of Illinois at Springfield, Ford was one of 118 representatives taking the oath. He looked cheerful yet cautious, realizing that, much like the moment in the restaurant, patience will be a much needed key to working effectively with others in the House, particularly those who may not be receptive to his ideas in the beginning.
Ford will have seniority, but said he feels the need to prove himself, less to his political peers than to his constituents on the West Side.
“I only want to prove myself to the people I represent in the 8th district; they are the ones that I wanted to impact when I decided to run for office,” said Ford, founder of Ford Desired Real Estate, 5714 W. Division. “I also want to reach out to local aldermen and congressmen, and work with them for the common goal of improving the job market, ex-offender re-entry and educational system in the community.”
Hitting the ground running
Ford said he plans to increase the funding of preschools and create legislation that will make educational funding more equitable. He added that he want to relieve the tax burden on homeowners, work with schools and local law enforcement officials to ensure safer schools and increase the affordability of higher education. His goals include improving the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals and establishing more ex-offender initiatives to prevent recidivism.
He said the hardest part of moving to Springfield is that he will not be able to see his family nearly as often as he’s accustomed.
“It will be tough not being able to see my fiancee and daughter as much now that I will reside in Springfield, because I’ve never been one to be isolated from my family,” said Ford. “However, I know I will be driving back to Austin and seeing them regularly, and the time alone will allow me to focus on my objectives here in Springfield.”
Nevertheless, fiancee Tieneh Harris, with whom Ford shares their 2-year-old daughter Tia, said she understands his obligation to the 8th district -which covers Austin, North Lawn dale, River Forest and parts of Oak Park – and will assure that he is never away from the family too much.
“I knew this was something he really wanted to do, but during the campaign I had reservations about it, only because I feared it would keep him away from the family too much,” said Harris, who is on hiatus from her schooling in merchandise management at International Academy of Design to raise their daughter. “However,” she added, “I got over it quickly. I’m very proud of him and know that he really wants to give back to the West Side. I have the utmost confidence that he will.”
Ford’s childhood friend, Robert Humphrey, was in attendance at the swearing in, sitting next to Ford’s mother Jessie and sisters Saundra and Kamila. Humphrey and Ford played basketball at the Help of Christians Catholic School. Ford attended the school, which was located across the street from his childhood home near Laramie and Lake.
Reflecting on Ford
Humphrey said it was Ford’s personality and ambition that helped solidify their friendship nearly 20 years ago.
“I liked his drive and determination. Even at that formative age, he was very confident in his abilities,” Humphrey said. “Like myself, he always chose to focus on what he could do, not what he couldn’t. I believe he is going to be an excellent representative of the West Side because he knows the hard work required to succeed in Springfield.”
Humphrey said that the early disappointment of Ford’s run for state rep in 1998 was more of a learning curve for him. It allowed Ford to gain experience and further develop his vision for the 8th district, said Humphrey.
“He is seasoned now, much more prepared, and his desire and confidence is as strong as ever. I’m looking forward to seeing his political career fully blossom.”
Humphrey, a married father of one and employee with the United States Postal Service, also found time help with Ford’s campaign. He passed out placards and fliers to constituents at el stations and through the mail.
“I assisted in getting some of the literature out there,” said Humphrey, who also owns of Touched by and Angel daycare center. “I remember, one day was especially cold and rainy, and I had to do double duty at work and on the campaign. It was not a great day, but it ended in a great outcome,” said Humphrey.
Right now, Ford said he has not even considered running for any other political office.
“I’m in it for the long haul,” said Ford. “I’m not even considering anything beyond that. I want to do the 8th district proud and represent it to the best of my ability.”