Middletown elected official exploring run for top seat. He would be the city’s first Black mayor.
A Middletown Board of Education member who also has served on the Common Council is exploring a run for mayor, and if he were to win would become the first Black resident to hold the city’s top seat.
Ed Ford Jr. said having roots in the city, from childhood to the present, is what made him decide to explore the run.
“I was raised in Middletown, Connecticut. I’m a son of the city. And I don’t say that just (as a) cliché, but having been raised in a community that has always embraced me, has always pushed me on, and has always rooted for me,” Ford said. “I feel like I owe it to the city to use my voice and my platform for good and continue to help our city to be a thriving place for families and people to live. At the end of the day, I can’t sit on the sidelines.”
Ford said that if he ran and were elected, he would focus on growing the city’s grand list of taxable property and increasing revenue, supporting local businesses, bringing people together and improving access to mental health services.
Ford would be running as a Democrat; he was previously a Republican.
Middletown Republican Town Committee Vice Chair Charles Wiltsie said that while he likes Ford, Jr., he is disappointed that he would be running as a Democrat. The committee has not yet selected its candidates but will do so in coming weeks.
“I think it’s a really great thing that young people get involved. I mean, I can’t say much negative. He has his reasons for doing it and those are his reasons,” Wiltsie said.
“I don’t know exactly what they are, although we have talked about them from time to time, but I think it’s great that he’s doing it. I don’t have any particular feeling about it, other than I think that it’s good that people are involved [in the political process] and he’s been involved since high school. So that’s a good thing,” he said.
Middletown Democratic Party Chair Mike Fallon said he welcomes the former council member to the party and looks forward to working with him on local issues. But Fallon also said that they will not officially endorse their nominee for mayor and other candidates for local office until their convention in July.
Fallon also said that the party has seen great progress in Middletown under current Mayor Ben Florsheim, who has filed to run for re-election and has led the city and schools safely through the pandemic while making historic investments in the riverfront and downtown.
Florsheim was elected in 2019.
“I enjoyed working across the aisle with Ed when he was on the council and I welcome him to the party,” Florsheim said about Ford’s possible candidacy. “I wish him well as he explores and I look forward to talking about the issues with him if he chooses to run.”
Ford’s best friend and manager of his exploratory committee, Tyrell Brown, said believes that Ford would make an outstanding candidate for mayor.
“He has a servant’s heart and genuine love for the people of Middletown. I believe he’s an innovative, bipartisan thinker who can provide solutions that better the city,” Brown said. “I hope he launches a formal campaign because the city would benefit greatly from his leadership.”
Ford said that his wife, Sazjanee Ford, also has given him a lot of encouragement and support to explore a run for mayor.
Sazjanee Ford said her husband will always have her support.
“His passion for public service and helping his hometown is inspiring and never ceases to amaze me. He has taught me so much about Middletown and how beautiful the city is. There is no one I know who is more passionate about Middletown than Ed,” she said.
“Watching him lead as a Common Council member only made it evident that there was greater work for him to do,” Sazjanee Ford said. “The exploratory committee is exciting to witness and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
Ford, Jr. said he looks to continue to be a voice for the issues that are most pressing to the city, if he decides to run for mayor.
“Our working families are still battling the rising cost of living, it’s a struggle for a lot of people right now. It’s a real reality. And so as a city, I believe and would try to do as I’m exploring this, to work toward growing the grand list and expanding our tax base in order for us to bring in more revenue and provide relief to residents who desperately need it right now,” he said.
He also said that he wants to help the city’s business economy, which took a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My wife and I patronize downtown businesses often and there’s some businesses and storefronts that we look at that are empty, that we were once walking by and going into and now they’re gone,” he said. “They need as much support from the city as we possibly can. And that takes bringing people together, that takes collaboration with the city, but also with the Chamber of Commerce and other nonprofit organizations. That takes us just working together to really provide as much support as we can to our local business economy.”
Ford said the mental health crisis that is happening in the nation, state and city, also is important to address, which he recognizes due to his background as a mental health professional.
“I also have experience in health care. I work on mental health, health care, management and policy. I understand the critical needs that we’re facing coming out of the [COVID-19] pandemic and people are awakening to the mental health crisis in our nation,” he said.
Ford, Jr. said he would like to see an increase of support for mental health funding, including having crisis intervention workers added to the city’s emergency response teams and additional counselors to support youth in public schools.
He said he also plans to bring his experience as a former city council member and current Board of Education member, as these were pivotal roles in the work he would want to do as mayor.
“There’s more work to be done. I really do believe that being in a mayoral position would allow me to set the agenda in a way that these issues can be on the forefront, [in order to] focus on and tackle with great efforts. And bringing people together, having communication, unifying people,” he said.
Ford, Jr. said bringing unity is one of the most important things he would highlight if he were to run and become mayor.
Ford also said he hopes to honor the life and legacy of the late Quentin “Q” Williams, former state representative for the 100th district in Middletown, who died in a crash this year.
“He was a mentor to me for the past several years. He was somebody that reached out to me when I first got on the Board of Education. When I was first running, he reached out to me and took me under his wing from there, pretty much. We’ve had several conversations that to this day, still impact me so much,” he said.
He said the conversations with Williams were so impactful for him that they helped him to decide to explore the run for mayor.
“He’s one of those reasons to me. You know, I’m exploring this run to provide that equity that the city needs and these critical areas that are often overlooked, or that just need more attention right now in this time. So when we talk about equity, equitable solutions, it’s really looking at the underserved communities and underserved populations. What areas, neighborhoods of our city are overlooked and how can we invest into those neighborhoods? How can we revitalize those neighborhoods,” he said.
He said that Williams’ mentorship played a part in his drive for the city.
“My love for Middletown just always drives me, no matter what. And Q and me sharing that same love for Middletown is always something that continues to put me back into consideration of how can I help. How can I be involved? What can I do when there’s a need? Whenever there’s a need, I try my best to fill that. So that’s something that Q did and that’s something that I also tried to do,” he said.
Ford said that if he ultimately decides to run for mayor, he would look to bring in voters from all different political parties and backgrounds.
“At the end of the day, Middletown is a tight knit family. We all come from different backgrounds, but we all share similar goals. And so a lot of the things that we need to focus on, such as our business economy, helping to reduce the cost of living in Middletown, helping to fund equitably to schools and provide mental health support. It’s something I believe that everybody can get on board with,” he said.