All six Democratic candidates for state Senate District 42 took one last chance to jab at each other Tuesday night before next week’s primary vote.
And they took turns from the start.
All the candidates battling for the seat previously held by Robert Ford generally support Medicaid expansion, doing more to help public schools and creating jobs. So they strove for ways to set themselves apart by highlighting their own story — or an opponent’s soft spot.
North Charleston businesswoman Margaret Rush took a subtle poke at Charleston lawyer Marlon Kimpson, a Columbia native who has been backed by state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston.
“I’m a native Charlestonian” she said. “I don’t need an escort guiding me through this district.”
Kimpson didn’t respond directly but later noted President Barack Obama caught flak for being born in Hawaii, adding, “But the people of Illinois chose him as their state senator and the people of the country chose him as president.”
Emmanuel Ferguson, who at age 28 is the youngest candidate in the race, also drew a parallel with Obama, who won overwhelmingly last November in this predominantly black Senate district.
“When they told President Obama that he was too young to be president, he showed them that they were wrong,” he said. “I hope to show anyone who thinks I’m too young to be Senator that they’re wrong.”
Ferguson and Rush also ganged up on Kimpson, as both promised to introduce a bill to prevent a lawmaker like Gilliard from endorsing and getting a paycheck from a candidate.
Kimpson said there was nothing wrong with that and accused his opponents of “political grandstanding.”
“There are many small businesses that use their business to consult with campaigns,” he said. “We really ought to be introducing bills to ban (Gov.) Nikki Haley from siphoning money from the public schools to the private schools.”
Former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington noted he has public officials endorsing him but they aren’t receiving money from his campaign. “All of them are supporting me based on my past record as a public official and a public servant,” he said.
Herbert S. Fielding, a retired jobs counselor and a son of former District 42 Sen. Herbert U. Fielding, said what sets him apart is his work experience in one of the area’s most critical issues: helping residents find good jobs.
“I’m most proud of that fact I’ve helped several veterans get jobs in this area,” he said, adding that education is key to raising up the black community, which has a higher level of unemployment. “There are good jobs in Charleston,” he said, “but our children are not qualified for them because they can’t pass the work key exam.”
Fielding mostly stayed out of the fray but at one point joked, “It’s getting warm in here.”
Kimpson also jabbed at Ferguson, who works for 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, saying, “Too many of your young men are pleading guilty to these crimes because the Solicitor’s Office is talking them into it, and they’re marred for the rest of their lives.”
Washington sat out the first NAACP-sponsored debate because of concerns that it wasn’t a level playing field, but he showed up Tuesday, even though the county’s Democratic chair has spoken out against him.
Washington also spoke out the most strongly against the current single-member districts gerrymandered to concentrate black voters into a few districts. “I believe single member districts are a detriment not only to minorities but also to the citizenry of South Carolina,” he said. “It creates polarization, deadlocks. It pits whites against blacks.”
Bob Thompson drew laughs with his simple, folksy answers, beginning with a case of butterflies right after he talked about serving in Jimmy Carter’s “Peanut Brigade.” “Forgive me,” he said. “I’m not used to this much pressure.”
He also drew laughs when he voiced support for the State Ethics Commission: “They’re doing the job they have to do, making sure we don’t steal nothing.” At another point, he talked about Columbia’s learning curve. “Even though we answer these questions, we don’t know what we’re going to do when we get there,” he said.
All candidates vowed to support President Barack Obama’s agenda, including the Medicaid expansion that south Carolina Republicans have refused to accept. They also said they wouldn’t support vouchers where tax dollars are used to help families attend private schools.
Ford resigned in May amid ethics and health problems, triggering a special election. On Aug. 13, Democratic voters in the district, from West Ashley to downtown Charleston to North Charleston, will go to the polls. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will be in an Aug. 27 runoff.
Libertarian candidates Alex Thornton and Rodney Travis and Republican Billy Shuman also seek the District 42 seat.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.