Ford’s many ups and downs

Amid a gubernatorial campaign in May 2008, Robert Ford’s house on Barrett Road in West Ashley burned down.

Mic Smith

State Sen. Robert Ford’s political career was marked by a steady rise, a sudden fall and a profound evolution in the four decades in between.

In 1990, Ford, then a Charleston city councilman, filed as a Democratic House candidate, and Charleston County’s Democratic chairman called his move “dirty pool” and accused Ford of being “an operative of the Republican Party.”

That chairman, William Runyon, served as Ford’s attorney this week as Ford battled for his political survival before the State Ethics Committee.

Ford evolved as much as another legendary 20th century South Carolina politician, the late Strom Thurmond.

Whereas Thurmond changed from a segregation-pushing Dixiecrat into a supporter of integration, Ford changed from a Civil Rights firebrand — his official biography notes that he was arrested 73 times — to a state senator who bragged about his close ties to influential white Republican colleagues.

Here are some of Ford’s major milestones:

A New Orleans native who arrived in Charleston during its tense 1969 hospital strike, Ford wins election to Charleston City Council in 1974, as the council changed to single-member districts.

Ford is arrested in 1977 on a forgery charge, but it doesn’t derail his political career.

In 1992 Ford wins election to the Senate 42 seat after Sen. Herbert Fielding retired.

Ford beats back several Democratic and Republican challengers over the years, including from one of South Carolina’s highest-profile leaders, Tim Scott, now a U.S. senator.

In 1995 Ford quits his last full-time job, at a local car dealership. He says he did so because whites were boycotting it because of his controversial comments over the Confederate flag.

In 2001 Ford beats another State Ethics Commission complaint, when a lawyer said the commission wrongly pursued him instead of a private group that Ford controls and used to help defeat a 1998 school bond vote.

In 2007 Ford makes national political ripples when he says that presidential contender Barack Obama would spell doom for Democrats if Obama were to win the primary. “We’d lose the House and the Senate and the governors and everything,” he says. He later apologizes.

As he runs for governor in 2008, Ford is hit by a double whammy: His house burns down, and his insurance covers only a third of his losses. His campaign is more than $25,000 in debt, and he lists his only income as his $26,540 Senate salary.

Ford loses the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary. His platform to legalize video gambling to help balance the state budget gets him only 18 percent of the vote.

That same year, Ford led a bipartisan group of nine lawmakers calling for an investigation of the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center at S.C. State University.

Diane Knich contributed to this report. Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.