Sanford endorses Charleston councilman for state treasurer

COLUMBIA -- The chairman of Charleston County Council has entered the race for state treasurer, hoping to become the first black to hold a statewide elected office since Reconstruction and winning the endorsement of Gov. Mark Sanford.

Tim Scott, 41, a financial adviser who has served on Charleston County Council for 12 years, said he was running because he supported government reforms Sanford advocated. Sanford said Scott was qualified for the job and that lawmakers should embrace the chance to elect a black statewide official.

But critics, including the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Sanford was "blowing smoke," appointing few blacks to his Cabinet.

The General Assembly meets Friday to elect a permanent replacement for former Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, who resigned last week following a federal indictment on cocaine charges. Two other candidates, Rep. Converse Chellis, a certified public accountant from Summerville, and Sen. Greg Ryberg, a real estate investor and businessman from Aiken, have said they are also running for the post.

All three are Republicans. Efforts to reach Chellis and Ryberg were unsuccessful.

"I'm hoping this is my foray into the statewide process," said Scott, who has also run for state Senate. "I see it as an uphill fight, without question."

Scott said Charleston County recently reviewed its services, working to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Scott said he was eager to work on recommendations in a recently released report on the State Budget and Control Board.

Sanford said lawmakers should consider candidates outside the General Assembly. It is "fundamentally wrong," Sanford also said, that South Carolina has not elected a black statewide official since Francis Louis Cardozo and Richard H. Gleaves left the posts of treasurer and lieutenant governor, respectively, in 1877.

"He's a competent individual with proven managerial skills," Sanford said.

Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said Sanford endorsing Scott, in part because he is black, is political, and Sanford knows Scott has little chance of winning.

Howard said Sanford has appointed too few blacks to Cabinet posts. Three of Sanford's 14 Cabinet secretaries are black.

"It's a little offensive," Howard said, citing the recent passing over of a qualified black deputy to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. "He's not leading by example."

While Sanford supports Scott, he also endorsed Ryberg, should the General Assembly decide to choose a fellow member. Ryberg ran for treasurer last year, finishing second in the Republican primary.

Though he supported both of Chellis' opponents, Sanford said his endorsement was not about Chellis "or his candidacy."

Both Ryberg and Scott are Sanford campaign donors.

House Majority Leader Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley and a Chellis supporter, said lawmakers looked to their own because they needed to quickly find a trusted candidate after Ravenel's resignation.

"We don't want to make a mistake," Merrill said. "I think the one thing that is kind of obvious is that the governor wants anybody other than a lawmaker."

The election could have wide-ranging results for the State Budget and Control Board, since the treasurer is one of five voting members of the board. The agency handles much of the day-to-day operations of state government and oversees billions in state purchasing, land sales and other contracts.

Sanford briefly held a 3-2 majority on the board, using it to appoint his former chief of staff to head the agency.

Howard, Merrill and others believed Chellis had enough support to win Friday's election.

"I think Chellis will win this hands down," Howard said.

Reach O'Connor at (803) 771-8358.