Former Tennessee Congressman Harold E. Ford Jr. won't be "bullied or intimidated'' as he weighs a challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in this fall's Democratic primary, a spokesman said Friday.
The pugnacious statement follows comments by Gillibrand supporters denouncing a possible Ford candidacy.
"It's good for New York to have a dialogue. It's good to have credible candidates exploring this race. So what are they so afraid of?'' said the statement, released by spokesman Davidson Goldin, a former political reporter for television station NY1 whom Ford hired this past week.
New York, the statement continues, needs a senator who will stand up for the state, "regardless of what the party bosses'' want.
Power player Sen. Chuck Schumer, widely seen as Gillibrand's closest, most influential ally, has been leveraging his political muscle all week in an effort to dissuade Ford from running, as he's elbowed out other potential contenders in the past. The senior senator met with Ford on Wednesday to discourage him from entering the race, two people familiar with the meeting told The New York Times.
But Ford may have some high-profile people in his camp as well. Two of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's senior campaign strategists lunched with the former Tennessee congressman, possibly to work up some campaign strategy, reports the Times.
That lunch meeting promoted Democratic majority leader Sen. Harry Reid to place a personal call to Bloomberg to ask the billionaire mayor to refrain from assisting Ford in any potential run for the Senate, a source told the Times.
Meanwhile, it appears Gillibrand supporters, including Rep. Jerry Nadler, Planned Parenthood Advocates of New York and the Human Rights Campaign, have already launched into attack mode. They released statements criticizing Ford's record in Tennessee, where he was elected in 1997 and served 10 years.
Gillibrand adviser Jefrey Pollock denied that the statements were "bullying,'' saying they were informing New Yorkers of "someone who has embraced an anti-choice, anti-LGBT rights, and anti-immigrant record.''
Ford, 38, took a job with Merrill Lynch & Co. in New York after losing the 2006 Tennessee Senate race. He is also the chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, teaches university courses and is a political commentator on MSNBC.
Gov. David Paterson named Gillibrand to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Senate after Clinton left to become secretary of state for the Obama administration.
Gillibrand has abandoned earlier, more conservative positions on issues such as gun control and immigration.