In his toughest comments to date, Harold Ford cast Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Monday as a "weak" puppet of the state's political establishment who has failed to connect with voters after a year in office.
"There is no doubt that Sen. Gillibrand is weak in many places across the city and the state," Ford told the Daily News in an interview. "At best, there is interest in hearing an alternative."
Ford, a former congressman from Tennessee, is mulling a Democratic primary challenge against Gillibrand and said he expects to make up his mind within the next 30 days.
But he insisted that what's driving his decision is not how much money he can raise or what politicians are behind him, but rather the complaints her hears from voters about government in general - and Gillibrand in particular.
"The most important strategists are those [voters] who say, 'Look, I don't know who the senator is, I am not sure what she has done, or what she is doing,'" Ford said of Gillibrand, who was appointed by Gov. Paterson a year ago to fill Hillary Clinton's vacant Senate seat.
As for being a carpetbagger from Tennessee, Ford argued that Gillibrand and he are not so different when it comes to running for statewide office in New York.
"For both of us, it would be the first time we have been on the ballot in 95% or more of the state," he said of Gillibrand, a one-time congresswoman from upstate.
The interview - granted under the condition that the questions be limited to his rationale for running, and not issues - comes at the end of a rocky first week of buzz surrounding his potential candidacy.
In his first interview last week, Ford confessed that he gets regular pedicures, takes a chauffeur-driven car to work on most days and had been to Staten Island only once - by helicopter.
Monday, in an interview at the International House of Pancakes on W. 135th St., he tried to laugh off those comments in a clear effort to lend a more common touch to his growing persona.
"This race isn't about feet, it's about issues," he said of ribbing he has taken on the web and elsewhere of his regular pedicures.
"I love New York, I love the smell of New York, I love the city of New York, I love the subway - I take the subway," he said. "But I am going to focus on things that voters in this restaurant and those across the city and state care about."
What are some of his favorite New York rituals? Walking down Fifth Ave. at sunrise after getting his morning coffee, strolling Central Park on the weekend, and the three-mile jogs he takes along the Hudson River fives days a week.
What's on his I-Pod? "I'm a big Stevie Wonder fan, Tribe Called Quest, and a bigger Al Green fan. And I gotta tell ya -- I like Alicia's and Jay-Z's new song," he said of the duo's new hit single, "Empire State of Mind," an ode to New York.
If Ford is not running, he sure is acting like a candidate.
Ford glad-handed many of the patrons enjoying a late, holiday breakfast at the IHOP.
Many seemed only vaguely familiar with Ford, who is perhaps best known for his regular gig as a political commentator on MSNBC.
"Excuse me, you a councilman or something?" said one young man, trying to place Ford's identity.
Ford seemed more than happy to introduce himself.
"Voters are interested in someone who can connect government better to their lives - I think I can do that and do a better job [than Gillibrand]," he said.
As for President Obama and Sen. Chuck Schumer - both of whom are strongly behind Gillibrand - Ford said he would not be dissuaded by pressure from above.
"I'm a Democrat and a proud one, but I am an independent Democrat," he said. "I have never been told what to do.
Do not make fun of the man's pedicures.