Rock Hill businessman Gary Williams kicked off his campaign for York County Council with about 175 supporters on hand, including business and community leaders.
In a back dining hall at the Old Town Bistro on Main Street, Williams formally announced his candidacy for the District 6 council seat, which represents northwestern Rock Hill and the Newport community.
Williams will run in the June 12 Republican primary against incumbent Chairman Britt Blackwell, a Rock Hill eye doctor serving his first term.
"It's time we get back to business," Williams said, adding that over the past year, the York County Council hasn't been focused on economic development.
Williams said he would provide "positive, adult leadership" that will "get results." He called a recent rise in York County's unemployment rate while the state's rate dropped "totally unacceptable."
Blackwell said he wouldn't be drawn in by Williams' criticisms.
"I'm not going to go there with him," he said Monday evening from his home. "He has a right to his opinion."
Blackwell did defend the current County Council members' commitment to economic development.
"You lay a foundation and then you build from there," he said. "We've done a great job of laying a solid foundation of making York County business friendly, and we're heading in the right direction."
Williams is owner and cofounder of Williams & Fudge, a college debt-collection agency in the former Cotton Factory on White Street in Rock Hill, which Williams' business renovated.
Among the community leaders in attendance were Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols and Rock Hill schools Superintendent Lynn Moody, and several people from Winthrop University including President Anthony DiGiorgio and his wife, Gale, and Kathy Bigham, vice-chairwoman of Winthrop's Board of Trustees.
Clarence and Lynn Hornsby also came to show their support for Williams.
"I am a Democrat, but I like Gary Williams, and I appreciate all the things he's done for this town," Lynn Hornsby said. "I also want someone more progressive. ... I don't like super conservativism."
Clarence Hornsby, a Republican and former chairman of the Rock Hill Economic Development board of directors, said he wants the County Council to "take more of an active role in economic development."
Former employees of the county Culture & Heritage Museums were there, as were former members of the county Culture & Heritage Commission, which oversees the museums.
As a member of the Culture & Heritage Foundation, which raises money for the museums, Williams was a non-voting member of the museum commission.
That ended when the current County Council disbanded the 21-member board, shrunk its membership to seven and replaced its members in a controversial shake-up of museum leadership - a change Williams has publicly criticized.
Former York County Councilman David Vipperman, who now manages the Rock Hill Business Technology Center, has worked with Williams over the years.
Vipperman said Williams has dedicated himself to the "broad community" - from economic development to the Boy Scouts.
The current County Council members are "good folks, well-intentioned," he said, but they don't have the "background and skills required in a county with this much potential."
Winthrop University Trustee Bob Thompson said current council members "spend more time arguing about things than focusing on the issues."
Williams would bring a "stronger, more enlightened point of view" to the council, Thompson said.
County government should be about providing a quality "set of deliverables," he said, and not necessarily about "lowest cost everything."
Nick Wimmer, 32, was one of the younger supporters in attendance - besides the troop of Boy Scouts. He views Williams as a "wonderful friend and mentor."
Nine years ago, Wimmer and his wife founded Camp Canaan, whose board Williams chairs.
"What has Gary not brought to the table?" Wimmer said. With his business and networking experience, Wimmer said, Williams "helped to provide a foundation for the camp."
"It's going to be a tough fight," said Swain Sheppard, a member of GPS Conservatives for Action, a Rock Hill-based political group.
Sheppard, who supports Blackwell's re-election bid, and three other GPS members came to the rally "to get a feel for what we're up against."
Williams' support for former U.S. Rep. John Spratt, a Democrat, is among their concerns, he said.
In 2010, Williams gave Spratt the maximum of $4,800 because Spratt supported the trade organization Williams was president of, Williams said last month, but also because he wanted to support him and the "community supported him for 28 years."
The move "doesn't make me a non-Republican," Williams said, but a "good businessman to make the right decision."
"Saying that any good businessman would have done the same thing is a telling tale," Sheppard said. What it really means, he said, is "'It's going to help my company and me in the future.'"
Blackwell "appeals to the small-government-type people" in York County, Sheppard said.
"I respect Britt for taking a stand ... and not giving raises to employees when the rest of the county is suffering," he said. "I don't think Williams would have done that."