Page 3 of 4   <       >

Former Tennessee congressman Harold Ford Jr.'s northern exposure

* * *

The one constituency with whom Ford does have high name-recognition is the city's top Democratic bundlers. "At least among my friends, Harold has an extremely strong base," said Orin Kramer, an investor at Boston Provident whose early support for Obama imbued him with gravity in the New York donor firmament. While Ford has yet to raise a cent for the race, Kramer said he would have financial support if he in fact ran.

"People regard him quite properly as an extraordinary political talent," Kramer said.

"We bonded with him years ago and he is one of our friends," said Robert Zimmerman, another influential fundraiser and Democratic National Committeeman. But according to several of these bundlers, it's not all about friendship. A show of support for Ford's potential candidacy also sends a message to Washington.

Ford's investor-friendly positions as chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council make him an ideal vehicle to protest Obama's "fat cat" insults and Schumer's post-crisis interest in financial regulation.

"Mr. President, you did what you need to do, we now have to do what we have to do," said one prominent member of New York's Democratic donor universe, who was granted anonymity to freely reflect the sentiments of his peers. The donor said Wall Street needed to elect Ford as a "champion for New York's economy and financial services sector," because Schumer "is preoccupied with being majority leader and a national leader, and our junior senator is a second vote for Chuck."

("Nobody stands up for New York's economy more than Senator Schumer," said Schumer spokesman Brian Fallon. "But that doesn't mean doing whatever the banks want even when they're wrong.")

Many of these donors are simply underwhelmed by Gillibrand, whose garrulousness is much noted, and have not embraced her as they did Clinton before her. Gillibrand has expressed irritation at her inability to crack into the uppermost echelons of the fundraising circuit, namely into the sprawling Fifth Avenue apartment of the first couple in Democratic Party fundraising, Steven Rattner and Maureen White.

Rattner, the Bloomberg confidant and money manager, former Obama car czar and Times reporter who remains close with the paper's owner, Arthur Sulzberger, has gushed about Ford in print. According to one Gillibrand supporter, the senator has ascribed the reason for her discord with the couple to a broken-off relationship with White's younger brother more than a decade ago.

"If I got mad at every girlfriend one of my five brothers ever dated, I'd be mad at a lot of people," White said. "The only relevant part of that story is I've known her longer than most people.

"I'm not enthusiastic about Kirsten for a very simple reason," White continued, "New York State needs someone great. It's not clear to me that she has the talent to follow in the footsteps of Robert Kennedy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan or Hillary Clinton."

If Ford gets elected, White said, "he'll be a national presence for New York State from day one."

<          3        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company