Political chairs rarely take sides in their primaries. Their administrative job is mostly to ensure that whoever their party nominates has the best chance at winning the overall election.
Aug. 27: The District 42 Senate Democratic primary runoff will be held. All registered voters, even those who did not vote in the Aug. 13 primary, may vote.
Oct. 1: The District 42 special election will be held.
But in this month's state Senate District 42 Democratic primary, Charleston County Democratic Chairman Richard Hricik has blown that tradition to bits, and many, but not all, of his party's faithful have thanked him for it.
Hricik's message — that former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington is a Republican, not a Democrat — will resonate even louder in the coming weeks as Washington faces an Aug. 27 Democratic runoff against Charleston lawyer Marlon Kimpson.
Kimpson got 44 percent of the vote in Tuesday's primary, and Washington finished second in the six-way race with 22 percent. The other four candidates who lost are say they're backing Kimpson in the runoff.
Shortly after his victory, Kimpson echoed Hricik's criticism, saying the runoff presented Democratic voters with “a clear choice. I am a lifelong Democrat. Mr. Washington has said he's a lifelong Republican.”
Washington said Kimpson is correct about voters having a clear choice. “It's a choice between someone who wants to go fight Nikki Haley and fight Republicans ... and someone interested in going to Columbia to work across party lines, to work in a bipartisan way, to get the business of the people done.”
Andrew Savage, a Charleston lawyer who served as a Democrat on Charleston County Council, is backing Washington and said Hricik is way out of line.
“The party of the big tent has turned into the party of a sleeping bag,” Savage said. “He's outrageous in his involvement. He is somebody who is supposed to be an administrator, not a cheerleader for a particular candidate.”
Savage said Hricik's opposition is worse because it stems mostly from Washington's associations with Republicans rather than from his actions or policy positions.
Hricik's criticism of Washington has centered on statements from former Democratic Sen. Robert Ford, Washington's service on Republican Gov. Mark Sanford's transition team and Washington's voting in GOP primaries and donating to Republican candidates.
“It just is mind-boggling to me to see somebody in his position would condemn somebody willing to arrive at the best outcome for the constituency by working with the other party,” he said. “Does this guy not understand that that's what America wants? How deep has his head been in the hole?”
Hricik said Savage is entitled to his opinion, but he has no regrets for explaining Washington's Republican ties.
“I've gotten nothing but positive feedback from party faithful, rank and file, other elected officials and party officials,” he said.
Washington called Hricik “Mr. Kimpson's biggest cheerleader.”
“I tell people I'm a 'person of interest' for Richard Hricik,” Washington said. “I try to make some lightheartedness of it to keep my sanity with this fellow.”
“This isn't about me versus Maurice,” Hricik said. “This is about the principles of the Democratic Party. That's far bigger than me. I believe Robert Ford when 90 days ago, he said Maurice Washington is a 29-year faithful and dedicated Republican.”
Ford said Friday that Washington understands that to get things done in South Carolina, working with Republicans is a must. Ford also chided Hricik for his lack of neutrality, saying, “For that guy to do that, that's the biggest disgrace in American political history.”
Meanwhile, Republicans aren't claiming Washington: They have their own candidate, real estate agent Billy Shuman.
Charleston County GOP Chairman John Steinberger said, “Maurice Washington filed as a Democrat, so I take him at his word.”
Steinberger said he remains neutral in GOP primaries, adding, “I will leave it up to Chairman Hricik to determine how to treat his primary candidates.”
Former Charleston County Democratic Chairman George Tempel said Hricik isn't following the party's new bylaws but withheld any further criticism because “it's not good for the party.
“If we were alone over a glass of wine,” he added, “I'd give you it all.”
Meanwhile, all four Democrats who were defeated in Tuesday's primary, retired jobs counselor Herbert S. Fielding, Charleston lawyer Emmanuel Ferguson, North Charleston businesswoman Margaret Rush and contractor Robert Thompson, said Friday they are backing Kimpson. Rush said Washington's Republican ties weren't the main reason for her decision, “but it certainly did factor into my thinking.”
Kimpson also got new endorsements this week from three Charleston area Democratic representatives: David Mack, Leon Stavrinakis and Seth Whipper.
Whoever wins the Aug. 27 runoff will face Shuman and Libertarian Alex Thornton in a special Oct. 1 election.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.