Politics & Government

Joe Neal’s family endorses candidate to replace late legislator

One candidate received a boost Thursday in the crowded race to succeed the late Joe Neal in the S.C. House of Representatives.

In a public announcement in the lobby of the S.C. State House, Hopkins Democrat Wendy Brawley was endorsed by the S.C. Progressive Network, the Progressive Legislative Caucus, and Neal’s family.

“I will work as hard as I can to continue his legacy,” Brawley said.

The former chair of Richland One school board, the 58-year-old Brawley is the publisher and chief executive of IMARA Woman magazine. She previously ran unsuccessfully for the S.C. Senate seat held by Darrell Jackson, losing to the incumbent in the 2016 primary.

If elected in the district covering Lower Richland and the western portion of Sumter County, she would replace long-time Rep. Neal, who passed away in February.

Green B. Neal, Joe Neal’s brother, said the family had studied the different candidates in the race and made a collective judgment on who would best carry on Neal’s legacy.

“We sought out their platforms, if they had one. We sought out their history of community activity,” Green B. Neal said. “And we dug for any corruption or impropriety.”

Over a conference call with a sister in New Jersey and extended family members in Sumter County, the Neals settled on Brawley because of she was a fellow Hopkins native who was supportive of many of the same community issues that animated Joe Neal’s public service.

“Ms. Brawley was the only one I saw who had worked with Joe in the community,” Neal said, citing her work to keep the Hopkins post office open and opposing incorporating the community, and her work with the local NAACP.

Brawley said she was pleasantly surprised when Neal called her out of the blue to offer the family’s support in her race.

“Joe Neal was my friend,” she said. “He would come by to chat and talk about politics. Sometimes I agreed with him, sometimes I didn’t ... but he always took a stand for people who couldn’t stand for themselves.”

The Neal family’s endorsement was echoed by Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, who co-founded the Legislative Progressive Caucus with Neal.

“The Progressive Legislative Caucus believes the Neal family came down on the right side,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Brawley faces seven other candidates in the Democratic primary on May 2: Eastover farmer and electric co-op board member H. Heath Hill; Norman Jackson Jr., the son of Richland County Councilman Norman Jackson Sr.; Army veteran Patrick Morris; social worker Harry Reese Sr; former legislator Levola S. Taylor; Sumter County utility worker and pastor Jermaine H. Walker; and George B. Wilson, son of former state Rep. George Wilson.