By Jeffrey Collins
In his first campaign appearance, South Carolina’s surprising U.S. Senate candidate Alvin Greene avoided any major gaffes Sunday as he hit his three major themes of jobs, education and justice.
The speech started off with a joke and ended with Greene timidly waving, a shy smile spreading across his face as he got a standing ovation before a friendly audience in his hometown of Manning.
Greene’s 6 1/2 minute speech at the local NAACP’s monthly meeting was mostly serious. Left out was any mention of his suggestion earlier this month that creating a line of action figures modeled after him could give South Carolinians jobs. In their place came platitudes familiar to anyone who has heard a stump speech.
“Let’s get South Carolina and America back to work and let’s move South Carolina forward,” said Greene, one of about a dozen lines that got applause from the several hundred folks crammed into a sweltering junior high gymnasium.
While singing and speeches by others slowly unfolded before Greene took the podium, the candidate occasionally fidgeted, wiped his brow and intently studied a black spiral notebook where he apparently wrote his remarks. The speech by the 32-year-old unemployed military veteran had very few of the long pauses that have marked his unprepared conversations with reporters.
He opened by joking that he was not only the best candidate for Senate, but also the best choice for one of next year’s NAACP Image Awards. After that, he turned serious. Greene rattled off national job loss statistics, and he said the state needs to put more people to work adding more lanes to hurricane evacuation routes.
On education, he mentioned South Carolina’s dismal rankings in standardized tests.
“Parents need to take more of a part in their children’s education, especially parents of underperforming students,” Greene said, offering no specifics about how to ensure their increased involvement.
And when he talked about justice, Greene called for giving first-time offenders a chance to do community service and pay a fine to have their records wiped clean, which called to mind his own legal troubles. Greene is facing a felony charge of showing obscene Internet photos to a University of South Carolina student.
“The punishment should fit the crime. Fairness saves us money. First-time offenders should be offered programs such as pretrial intervention,” Greene said.
Greene took no questions from the audience and hustled past a group of reporters on his way out of the building without stopping to talk.
Organizers of the speech set up 300 folding chairs and nearly all of them were full, with at least a 100 more people filling the bleachers at the only junior high in Manning, a town of less than 4,000 people about 60 miles southeast of Columbia.
Most of the crowd saw Greene’s awkward media interviews in the days after his shocking primary win June 8 over a former judge and state lawmaker who had the full backing of the Democratic party. They’d followed as he withstood a challenge to the vote and calls for him to step aside because of the pending charge that came to light only after the win.
Pamela Clavon Brunson bristled at the scorn heaped on Greene for his halting answers and quirky ideas. People should be proud of a young black man following his dream of becoming a U.S. Senator, even if he doesn’t give an amazing speech like other longtime politicians.
“The polished ones just know how to lie better,” said the 46-year-old retired police officer now living in Manning.
Jerry Johnson was said Greene looked much better giving his speech than he has in interviews.
“I wasn’t blown away, but he didn’t do bad,” Johnson said. “Considering I didn’t know anything about him coming in, that’s not so bad.”
The Manning branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it invited Greene to speak so its members could get to know him better.
Greene faces Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint and Green Party candidate Tom Clements in November. DeMint has more than $3.5 million to spend, while Greene told a reporter last week he has raised about $1,000.
But beating those kind of odds should be familiar to anyone who reads the Bible, said Manning NAACP president Bobby Fleming.
“It was not the people who put David before Goliath,” Fleming said. “It was God who gave him the opportunity to defeat the giant.”