Ford announced his decision Monday in a New York Times Op-Ed piece after spending about two months on a "listening tour" of the state. His move is a relief for Democrats worried a bitter primary would harm the winner and possibly give the seat to Republicans.
In the op-ed piece, Ford cited the downside of a primary to his party. He also was harshly critical of what he said were party bosses out of touch with the needs of residents.
"If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary - a primary where the winner emerges weakened and the Republican strengthened," he said in the op-ed, which was posted Monday night on nytimes.com. "I refuse to do anything that would . . . give the Senate majority to the Republicans," he continued.
The state's last GOP senator was Alfonse D'Amato of Island Park, who lost his re-election bid in 1998 to Charles Schumer, a Democrat from Brooklyn. The party's only declared candidate this year is Bruce Blakeman, former presiding officer of the Nassau Legislature. Daily News publisher Mortimer Zuckerman is also reportedly mulling a bid.
Gillibrand aide Glen Caplin said Monday night that she would continue "fighting for New York." A Ford spokesman declined to comment.
Ford's potential challenge to Gillibrand upset many, including the White House and Schumer, who have worked to clear the field. Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) exited after being leaned on - a fact Ford noted in his op-ed.
Ford and Gillibrand have engaged in name-calling. He said she and Schumer were parakeets, putting party loyalty ahead of New York's interests. She pushed him to disclose his bonus from Merrill Lynch and said he was a carpetbagger.
On Long Island, Democratic Party leaders lauded Ford's decision. "I'm gratified," said Jay Jacobs, head of the Nassau and state committees. "I believe it was a personal sacrifice, giving up an opportunity for the greater good of the party."