North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey isn’t backing down from his support for Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump.
The continued endorsement comes as Trump is facing mounting criticism for not immediately repudiating support from the Ku Klux Klan during an interview last weekend.
Summey, whose city’s population is majority black, said Tuesday he still sees Trump as the candidate best-suited to fix the nation’s problems, and that he does not consider the New York billionaire to be racist.
“I can’t answer for him,” Summey said during a phone interview. “Knowing him the way I do, he’s not prejudicial.”
During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, Trump declined to disavow support from David Duke, the KKK’s former grand wizard, saying he didn’t know anything about the group. Trump later complained he didn’t hear the questions in the interview because of what he called a bad earpiece.
The exchange has since caused a ripple effect across Republican presidential politics as the other candidates, members of Congress and leaders in Statehouses, including Gov. Nikki Haley, have criticized Trump for not immediately condemning the hate group.
Duke told his radio followers a vote against Trump was equivalent to “treason to your heritage.”
Summey said he isn’t worried how blacks in North Charleston, who make up more than 47 percent of the population according to Census numbers, will view his continued support for Trump as the GOP race moves forward. He said he has worked with the African-American community for the 22 years he’s been in office and pointed to his recent refusal to support a Statehouse proposal to move the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum to North Charleston as an example of pursuing racial respect.
“Blacks in the community know where my heart is,” Summey said, adding that the same thing goes for the growing Hispanic population in North Charleston.
But North Charleston NAACP Branch President Ed Bryant said Summey’s continued support “is an insult to anyone holding a voter registration card.”
Bryant questioned the wisdom of Summey backing Trump, saying that for anyone seeking the nation’s highest office not to know who Duke is or what the KKK’s history has been “is an insult to the entire black population of the whole state of South Carolina.”
Bryant added that if someone’s political “conclusion is Donald Trump, then you have a very serious problem.”
Summey endorsed Trump for president two days before the Feb. 20 South Carolina GOP primary.
“I think that America is broken, and I think he is the one person that possibly has the best chance of straightening it out because of his extensive business background,” Summey said at the time in North Charleston before he and Trump shared lunch.
The backing came from the man in charge of the state’s third-largest city and with a population of about 105,000.
Summey said he had the right to support the candidate he chose in the race and that if Trump gets the nomination he will vote for him in November.
As far as Trump’s response on CNN, “I would have said it differently,” Summey said.
Summey isn’t alone in South Carolina among political figures sticking with the GOP leader. The Associated Press recently surveyed some of his highest profile supporters and Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, former state Ports Authority chairman Bill Stern and former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer all said their minds have not changed.
“From what I know of Donald Trump, he would not seek an endorsement from a group like this or want to be associated with a David Duke,” said Stern, now a commercial real estate developer in Columbia. “I have confidence in that.”
“The picture that is being presented ... is not the picture of the man I have come to know,” McMaster said.
Trump didn’t immediately — but did ultimately — distance himself from the KKK support. Stern, the son of Holocaust survivors, said he and Trump have discussed at length the “need to stand up against racism and intolerance.”
Trump initially told reporters Friday that he didn’t know anything about Duke’s heritage treason statement, then curtly said: “All right, I disavow, OK?”