As filing opened Friday for his former Senate seat, Robert Ford called the probe into his campaign spending a “lynching” and maintained that he did nothing wrong.

Ford, a Democrat, stepped down May 31, just as the Senate Ethics Committee found he had violated several state laws regarding handling his campaign money. S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has opened a criminal investigation in the case.

During his four decades as a well-known player in Lowcountry politics, Ford earned a reputation for being outspoken, often outraging and confounding his enemies. It appears retirement has not mellowed him.

On Friday, he continued to describe the Ethics Committee's actions as “a lynching,” adding, “That's the most cruel act probably since Adam Clayton Powell,” a congressman from Harlem forced from office after corruption charges in 1967.

Ford said he spent his campaign money helping people, including sending them birthday, Mothers Day and Fathers Day cards. “Lynching, that's a calm word compared to what they did to me,” he said. “I didn't do anything wrong.”

“I think they needed a scapegoat, and I was convenient,” he added. “I have done more for South Carolina than any one person in this state's political history.”

Ford on June 15 had written an opinion piece in which he wrote: “Not one bit of respect for me as a senator, simply a public lynching of State Senator Robert Ford.” He went on to describe his community projects and contributions to District 42 over the years.

Meanwhile, filing opened Friday in the special election to see who will succeed him.

Ford said he wants to see S.C. State University trustee and former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington replace him in Columbia.

As a result, this election will provide a yardstick as to what influence Ford still wields in a district that he had held in a vise-like grip for two decades. Since he first took office in 1993, Ford handily beat back several political challengers, including Washington and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

Republican Billy Shuman, a political newcomer and a real estate agent, was the first to file shortly after noon Friday.

The seat also is expected to draw several Democratic challengers in addition to Washington. They include Emmanuel Ferguson, an attorney in the 9th Circuit Solicitor's Office, Charleston lawyer Marlon Kimpson and Frederick “Fritz” Fielding, who tried to run for the seat last year but was struck from the ballot.

State Rep. Seth Whipper, D-North Charleston, also is eyeing a run.

Ford said he was backing Washington because he is ready to serve. “The most important thing for African-Americans is saving of South Carolina State. He can do that,” Ford said.

Washington is a former Charleston councilman, and his trustee term at S.C. State is set to end June 30.

Ford said he would have stayed out of the District 42 race if state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, were running, but Gilliard lives just outside the district. State Rep. David Mack, D-North Charleston, also has said he won't run.

The district stretches from downtown Charleston up through North Charleston and southern Dorchester County. About 63 percent of its 61,616 registered voters are black.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.