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Former basketball star poised to win USC board race after lawmakers feared racial tension

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Alex English

Alex English, a former NBA and University of South Carolina basketball star, talks to lawmakers in the S.C. Statehouse lobby on Feb. 25, 2021. English is seeking to hold on to his seat on the university's board of trustees. File/Jamie Lovegrove/Staff

COLUMBIA — A former Gamecock basketball star is poised to hold on to his seat on the University of South Carolina board of trustees after his only remaining competitor withdrew from the race, avoiding a contest that some lawmakers feared could have exacerbated racial tensions in the Statehouse.

Alex English, a Columbia native who became the Gamecocks all-time leading scorer before a 15-year Hall of Fame career in the NBA, was appointed by Gov. Henry McMaster in June to fill the USC board seat held by William Hubbard, who left after being appointed dean of the law school.

He is seeking to win a longer term on the board in legislative elections set for March 3 but faced competition from Robert Dozier, a top executive at First Reliance Bank.

With English's supporters confident that he had locked down more than enough votes to win the race, Dozier dropped out March 2.

Dozier announced his decision in a letter to S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville.

"Unfortunately, as the election process has progressed, it has become increasingly divisive and now threatens the important relationships essential to moving forward," Dozier wrote in explanation of his decision.

The race became increasingly tense over the past week as some lawmakers fretted over the implications of ousting English, one of only two Black trustees on the 20-member USC board along with Rock Hill attorney Leah Moody. Dozier is White.

South Carolina’s population is 27 percent Black, while the student body on USC’s main Columbia campus is less than 10 percent Black. Top officials, including university President Robert Caslen, have said diversifying the student population is a priority for the university over the next few years.

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The USC board race came just a few weeks after the only four Black candidates in the Legislature's two dozen judicial races all lost to White opponents, prompting outrage from Black lawmakers over the lack of diversity on the bench.

They were particularly upset over the defeat of Circuit Judge DeAndrea Benjamin, the wife of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, in her bid for a promotion to the appeals court after the race became unusually partisan following attacks from a conservative group led by Republican former gubernatorial candidate John Warren.

State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Hopkins, one of the legislators who expressed disappointment over the outcome of the judicial races, said English's defeat would have been even worse because of how iconic he is in the USC community, particularly for Black students and alumni who have not always felt welcomed on campus.

Now, that will not be an issue.

In his letter, Dozier said he is confident English will continue representing the university "with the same honor and respect he always has."

"While I am disappointed that I will be unable at this time to use my experience in business and educational leadership to combat the difficult issues currently confronting the University, I am confident that preserving this important unity is the right thing to do for both USC and South Carolina," Dozier wrote.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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