Ed Greenleaf is running to represent South Carolina’s 2nd congressional district — talking equality, public service, the necessity of compromise and taking aim at Republican Joe Wilson, who’s held the seat since 2001.
Meeting a reporter at a humble strip of office space on Columbia’s Millwood Avenue, he displays a mix of boyish excitement and knowing confidence, an appropriate pose for a political newcomer — but Greenleaf appears to be sitting on a secret.
“I think America is going to be surprised in November,” he says, almost giddily.
He’s been hitting the district’s streets, which stretch from Columbia southwest to the Savannah River and down the state line to the Atlantic Ocean, talking to the voters, and he claims he’s getting very positive feedback on his candidacy.
But does an openly gay Democrat stand a chance in a district that’s been reliably conservative since it sent fire-eating secessionists to Washington in the 1800s?
Greenleaf says yes.
“I’ve been in a committed relationship for 29 years,” he says. “I’m not running for congressman of the Castro. Me being gay is the same as me being right-handed. It’s genetically predisposed.”
While Greenleaf downplays his sexuality as only one aspect of his character — “a blessing and a curse” — he acknowledges he’s running for office in South Carolina, where right-wing activists still bash Sen. Lindsey Graham with public allegations of latent homosexuality.
Briefly shedding his boyishness, he says, “There are not many [openly gay] folks who have run because they’re scared. Guess what? I’m not scared. Bring it on. Tell me why I shouldn’t be treated equally.”
This former supporter of Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush says his commitment to human equality is the basis for all of his positions, and that’s why he’s running as a Democrat. “You support women’s rights, a woman’s right to chose. The Supreme Court ruled on that. Why do they keep tampering with it? The Violence Against Women Act, our congressman voted to de-authorize that. It wasn’t widely reported. It’s called the Violence Against Women Act. It’s a no-brainer. Why do you vote against that?”
According to Greenleaf, Wilson’s neglect of the district is readily evident in the condition of federal highways and problems at Columbia’s Dorn VA Medical Center, where the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General has reported a breakdown in services. One performance index, the Healthcare-Associated Infection and Patient-Safety Indicator, has the hospital ranked an abysmal 127 out of 128.
“At the time, our current congressman said, ‘Oh my Lord, that’s just horrible.’ Well you know what? Why wasn’t he there ahead of that?” asks Greenleaf. “If he was listening to the needs of the veterans, you don’t wait until your investigative body tells you you’ve got a problem. If you don’t know you have a problem, you’re not a congressman of the people.”
Greenleaf isn’t afraid of populist appeals either. To hear him tell it, Wilson dwells in a political echo chamber, oblivious to his constituents’ concerns at home.
“Our congressman lives in a different world. Look at his background. He was born South of Broad in Charleston. I came from nothing. He came from the silver spoon. His name is not Joe Wilson. It’s Addison Graves Wilson. Report his name properly,” he tells a reporter.
At the same time, this proud son of a paper mill worker displays a reverence for his forbears typical of South Carolina politicians — reeling off a lineage that includes the Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier [online copy corrected], Sen. Daniel Webster, Nantucket’s early proprietors and the first man to survey North Carolina’s Great Dismal Swamp.
As for his resume, Greenleaf just left BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, where he went from entry level to executive over a 27-year span, to commit himself to campaign life. Since graduating from the University of South Carolina in the 1980s, he’s been active in Columbia civic life, serving on committees for numerous organizations such as the United Way of the Midlands, Sistercare, the Richland County Transportation Commission, the Historic Columbia Foundation and the AIDS Benefit Foundation.
Wilson’s office did not respond by press time to a request for comment on Greenleaf’s candidacy.
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