COLUMBIA, SC — Democrat Ed Greenleaf kicked off his bid Tuesday to unseat U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., in November’s general election.
The 51-year-old Columbia resident retired last week after 27 years with BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, where he said he managed outreach and education communications for the company’s Palmetto GBA subsidiary.
Greenleaf said divisive politics in Washington and the October government shutdown made him consider running. He criticized Wilson for the federal government shutdown, which happened after Republicans demanded President Barack Obama and Democrats defund the Affordable Care Act as part of ongoing budget negotiations.
Greenleaf said the federal government shutdown in the ’90s “made sense because Republicans had a purpose; they wanted the ‘Contract with America’ ” passed. But, in October, he said, “We had a group primarily of white, middle-aged men who were trying to tell the country, ‘We will not do anything unless you defund Obamacare.’ ”
Greenleaf also criticized Wilson for wrapping “himself in conservative cloth” even as the country’s deficits have grown.
“I will never vote for a federal budget that allows the deficit to grow from the previous fiscal year,” Greenleaf told a gathering of supporters and friends. “I will uphold and honor the promises made to our veterans and our soldiers. I will tear down that imaginary wall that exists in our U.S. House of Representatives, and truly put the needs of our citizens first.”
Having never run for political office, Greenleaf said it was going to take a “pretty penny” to challenge the “machine” that he will face.
Republicans have held the 2nd District seat since 1965. Wilson was elected in 2001, winning his tightest race in 2008, by a 54 to 46 margin.
Greenleaf is gay, a fact that “might be a novelty for some people” in the district, he said an interview. But his sexuality will not be a “main theme” of his candidacy.
“The fact that I’m gay is just as important as that I’m right-handed, OK, and that I drive a Volkswagen,” he said. “I’ve walked the district. I’ve talked the district. They don’t ask what are you going to do about gay rights. They ask: ‘What are you going to do about jobs?’”
Greenleaf was born in Georgetown, grew up in Florence and now lives in Northeast Columbia. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Carolina.
Sharon Mann, a friend who introduced Greenleaf, said she worked with him on nonprofit boards and in the health-care arena, seeking his guidance in dealing with Medicare issues.
“I’ve known him to be dedicated and passionate in whatever endeavor he has taken on, whether it is in volunteer activities or his work. He truly cares about the organizations he supports.”