Edwards to visit Blackmon Road

When John Edwards speaks in the Blackmon Road community outside Rock Hill on Friday afternoon, he almost certainly will touch on some of his trademark campaign themes: health care and job training for the poor, the importance of volunteering and the need to provide more affordable housing.

He'll do it in a place where only a presidential hopeful with his anti-poverty platform would have credibility. On Blackmon Road, some families live in homes without running water. Others share outhouses.

But the choice of venue raises a question that has become familiar for Edwards over the past few months: To what extent are appearances such as this a genuine effort to spotlight a social ill -- and how much are they used as staged backdrops for a candidate's own political gain?

Edwards has faced criticism over whether his anti-poverty message conflicts with his lifestyle.

Critics cite his $400 haircut, the $6 million estate he built outside Chapel Hill, N.C., and his ties to Fortress Investment Group, which owns mortgage firms that sought to foreclose on working-class homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

But admirers counter that what matters is Edwards' legal and legislative record as an advocate for the little guy, dating back to his days as a trial lawyer in North Carolina.

On Friday, they point out, volunteers are asked to show up 30 minutes early to sort clothes, pick up trash and stock the food pantry -- all to help the 75 or so people who live on Blackmon Road.

Edwards will be accompanied on his two-day South Carolina visit by actor Danny Glover, who filmed a civil rights movie in Rock Hill this summer but didn't find time to visit A Place for Hope.

"Certainly, everything a candidate does in an election year is for political gain," said Edwards supporter Ava Howe of York. "But at the same time, you have to look at the background of each candidate and see what they did when they weren't running. I'm saying John Edwards is somebody who's done this for a long time."

Other local Democrats say the sincerity of the visit depends on what Edwards says. If he makes a speech about how poor people should vote for him because he's the candidate who cares about poverty, that's one thing.

But he if focuses on identifying needs and solutions, then maybe places such as Blackmon Road can make strides toward getting the attention they need.

"Doesn't everybody speak to their base?," asked City Councilman John Gettys, an anti-poverty advocate. "There are a lot of people like me who feel like that's what their president ought to be focusing on. It has a lot more to do with this part of the country than anything anybody else is talking about."

Karen McKernan, executive director of A Place for Hope, said the most important thing isn't Edwards' appearance. It's the people who will learn about the community for the first time as a result of his being there.

"Positive things have already come from it," she said. "People who didn't know of Blackmon Road have contacted me. We're hoping they add their voices to the cause."

• What: Visit from Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards

• Where: A Place for Hope, 1020 Archer Drive, in the Blackmon Road community

• When: Friday. Edwards will arrive at 3 p.m. Volunteers are asked to come at 2:30 p.m.

• Who: Open to the public. For information about A Place for Hope, call 329-4673.