Illinois politics can be a bruising job even for the most seasoned politician. Add raising a family as a single parent into that mix, and the job becomes even more challenging.
But state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-8th) has seemingly struck a balance between the stresses of serving his West Side constituents, pushing bills through a prickly General Assembly and raising his energetic 8-year-old daughter, Tia.
“She makes everything better, even with all the stress,” said Ford, the former Chicago Public Schools teacher-turned-politician. The two-term state representative took office in 2007 after defeating incumbent Calvin Giles in 2006.
Since then Ford has made a name for himself. He passed notable legislation, including removing from the state employment application a question about being convicted of a non-violent criminal offense. However, Gov. Pat Quinn later vetoed the measure.
He introduced legislation that since has become law allowing people to use their LINK (food stamps) cards at local farmers markets. He also successfully sponsored legislation creating a micro-loan program allowing qualified ex-offenders to start their own businesses.
Political accomplishments aside, Ford said he makes sure he carves out time in his schedule of community meetings, press conferences and fundraisers to hang with his daughter. That time is priceless when he’s spending four days a week in Springfield when the General Assembly is in session.
Ford, who also operates a real estate company, prides himself on being a hands-on dad. He often takes his daughter to her soccer games, swimming lessons and attends piano recitals – all the regular stuff dads do. On a recent outing, Ford indulged his daughter’s request to visit the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower.
He said Tia had never been there before, and it took some cajoling to get her onto The Ledge, the glass balcony that protrudes four feet out the building’s side from a height of 1,300 feet. Even when Ford travels to lobby on behalf of Illinois residents, his daughter is not far behind. She often joins him on trips to Washington, D.C., and Springfield.
“She is demanding,” Ford said of his daughter. “She asks all the time what are we going to do? Are you coming to my game?”
But Ford admits he could not strike that balance between work and family life without a simpatico relationship with Tia’s mother. Ford co-parents Tia, who attends Ascension Catholic School in Oak Park, with her mother when he is down in Springfield.
“She has a good mother and that helps,” Ford said. “I have been able to rely on her mother to be there when I am not around. But when I am here in the city, I am with her every day.”
Even though the two did not marry, Ford says that he and Tia’s mother make their daughter a priority and not let their personal issues interfere with Tia’s happiness.
“We do our best to make sure that we don’t let personal matters get in between parenting,” he said. “She doesn’t need to deal with parent problems. We make sure we have a good relationship for our own sake and for Tia.”
Ford’s desire to provide a stable home life for Tia stems from his own upbringing. Born to a mother too young to care for him, Ford was adopted by his grandmother. He said his mother was 14 or 15 when she had him. He never knew his father.
Ford lived in the Cabrini Green housing development on the North Side until he was about 2 years old before moving to the 800 block of North Leclaire in Austin. He credits his grandmother for providing him the framework to be a good parent. But he admits the absence of his father did factor into how he wanted to raise his daughter.
“I wanted to have a child and … I knew I was going to do the right thing,” Ford said.