Politics & Government

Joe Biden wins 2020 support from these SC mayors

2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia

2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia at the Hyatt Park Community Center
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2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks to supporters in Columbia at the Hyatt Park Community Center

Former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley will back Joe Biden for president in 2020, the former vice president’s campaign announced Thursday.

Biden’s campaign rolled out another wave of endorsements on Thursday from three former and at least seven current S.C. mayors — most of whom are black — a day before Biden will join 21 other Democratic presidential hopefuls in Columbia for the S.C. Democratic Party’s convention weekend.

“I am honored to have the support of so many mayors,” Biden said in a statement provided to The State. “These are folks who know firsthand what it takes to lead and get things done to help working people. I am grateful and proud to have these outstanding mayors on my team.”

The former Delaware U.S. senator and Riley, who Biden has described as “America’s Mayor,” have long been friends. And, when Biden visits South Carolina, he frequently stops in Charleston, the Lowcountry city he once said he would like to be reborn in when he dies.

Ahead of the state’s first-in-the-South primary, Riley’s endorsement could prove helpful to Biden, who recently found himself at odds with some black voters, who have criticized the veteran politician for his past working relationships with segregationist senators.

Biden, for instance, famously spoke at the funeral of South Carolina’s longtime U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-Edgefield.

He also has drawn criticism from Democrats over his support of the 1994 Crime Bill and handling of Anita Hill, who is black, when she testified at a Senate hearing in 1991 during a confirmation hearing for now U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Over the years Riley, one of the country’s longest-serving mayors, has forged strong relationships with African Americans, who make up more than 60 percent of the state’s Democratic Party voting bloc — important to winning the state’s February primary.

More than a decade before then-Gov. Nikki Haley ordered the Confederate flag down from the State House grounds, Riley helped lead a 120-mile march to Columbia to demand state legislators remove the flag. In June 2015, after nine black churchgoers, including a state senator, were gunned down at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church, Riley was lauded for exuding calm over the Holy City.

In 2015, when Riley retired from office after 40 years, Biden was at his side for a celebration in Charleston.

“He is an exceptional and kind man and I look forward to seeing him again,” Riley said then of Biden, ABC News 4 reported.

Biden also snagged endorsements from:

Former Gray Court Mayor John Carter

Former Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols

Kline Mayor William Cave

Furman Mayor Francenia Ellis

Lane Mayor Charlie Fulton

Timmonsville Mayor Darrick Jackson

Gaffney Mayor Henry Jolly

Fairfax Mayor Dorothy Riley

Swansea Mayor Jerald Sanders

Editor’s Note: After this story was published, Santee Mayor Donnie Hilliard told The State he has not made an endorsement in the 2020 presidential race, contradicting statements made by Biden’s campaign. His name has been removed from the story.

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.