CONWAY — Visitors to the cramped lobby of Gloria Bromell Tinubu’s Conway campaign headquarters are met by an American flag and a large campaign banner, dominated by an imposing picture of Tinubu. The size of the face smiling down stands in stark contrast to the normal-size person sitting beneath it.
That banner, however, could be indicative of Tinubu’s life; a Georgetown County native from humble beginnings, now seeking the big time.
Minor-league baseball players refer to making it in the majors as “going to the show.” In Tinubu’s case, the show would be the U.S. Congress.
Tinubu, the Democratic candidate for the seat, recently moved back to her native home of Plantersville in Georgetown County because, she said, she felt it was her responsibility to refurbish her parents’ home.
“I looked around and realized that my community needed some restoration as well,” she said.
Like her opponent, Republican hopeful Tom Rice, Tinubu says that restoration is centered around jobs. It’s their approaches to expanding the 7th District’s economy that form the core of their ideological differences.
Rice feels small businesses are hampered by too much government regulation, while Tinubu – referring to her opponent’s economic development plan as “giving the house away” – prefers investing in education to improve employment opportunities.
It was a point she repeated numerous times during her two debates with Rice and one that she’s promoted throughout her campaign.
“You invest in the local existing residents. You invest in their education. You invest in their training. You invest in providing research and development that would benefit the local small businesses who don’t have access to research and development. And then you invest in your infrastructure,” Tinubu said during a recent interview.
Tinubu, a teaching associate at Coastal Carolina University, has also advocated investing in community colleges and technical schools as a way to help small businesses innovate and improve their operations.
Aside from investing in education, Tinubu wants the 7th District to seek companies that pay higher wages than many Horry County has secured lately.
“What really creates jobs is consumer spending. Businesses expand and hire more workers when consumers buy their products. And if people aren’t capable of buying their products, then they’re not going to create more jobs,” she said.
Project Blue concerns
Tinubu said she differs completely with Rice’s job growth plan, especially as it pertains to the proposed Project Blue economic development initiative.
If approved, that initiative would approve local incentives in the hope of luring a call center and 1,020 new jobs to the area. In their debates, Tinubu accused Rice, the current chairman of Horry County Council, of questionable dealings when it comes to the proposed project. Members of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. and contributors and friends of Rice, she said, stand to benefit.
Those accusations continued at a news conference Thursday, when Tinubu named one of the supposed benefactors as local attorney Franklin Daniels, a member of the EDC board and the attorney for the company behind Project Blue. Contacted afterward, Daniels denied being either a contributor to Rice’s campaign or taking any votes on the company as a member of the EDC board.
“I have not given one penny to her, or one penny to Tom Rice,” Daniels said Friday, a position confirmed by Federal Election Commission campaign reports. “The statements that were made are absolutely untrue.”
As for promoting the project, Daniels said the EDC has a conflict of interest policy in place and he leaves the room whenever Project Blue is discussed.
Young, wanting to serve
Tinubu’s opposition to Rice’s handling of the Project Blue project is just one of the reasons she says she is more qualified to improve the 7th District’s economic prospects.
During the first debate, she assured residents that a vote for her is a vote for an economic development expert. She spoke a few weeks later about the background and experience she believes will allow her to make good on that promise.
Tinubu, 59, was born in Brookgreen Gardens near Murrells Inlet to parents who had elementary-level educations. When she was 4, her parents moved their eight children to a Plantersville tobacco farm.
She attributes her desire to be a public servant to her time at Choppee High School, where she was president of her 1971 senior class.
After high school, Tinubu spent her freshman year at the University of South Carolina. Her hope was simple: study, get a degree and go back to help her community. Financial difficulties made life hard, but she persisted. Tinubu relied on a bike to get around the University of South Carolina and later Howard University, wearing clothes she made with her mother’s portable sewing machine.
She received a bachelor’s degree from Howard in fine arts in 1974 and did just what she said she was going to do – she went back home to teach at her high school alma mater.
Eventually, she decided she needed more training and went to Clemson University, where she earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics in 1977. Not done yet, she later received a doctorate in applied economics from Clemson as well.
But adding degrees wasn’t the only life change.
“Life happened. I met the love of my life,” Tinubu said.
That love was Soji Tinubu, a Nigerian-born U.S. citizen who received a master’s degree in civil engineering from Clemson. They were married in 1976, a union that has produced four children and later two grandchildren.
Life was happening and it included some bumps in the road. She said Soji, despite having his master’s degree, couldn’t find a job in South Carolina. He was flipping pizzas to make money.
Once he started looking outside of the state, he found a position in Atlanta and moved south. Tinubu said she followed after getting her master’s degree, and she concentrated on being a wife and mother.
It was in Atlanta that her political career began. She served on the City Council during the mid to late ’90s, and n unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2001.
Tinubu acknowledges the district she served dealt with a lot of blight. That included what she calls the infamous Stewart Avenue Corridor, a haven for drugs and prostitution.
She talked with pride of a public safety initiative that sent extra patrols through the area to wean out the area’s negative forces. A business development alliance helped to promote more positive businesses in the corridor.
“We really set the stage for new positive things to happen there,” Tinubu said.
C.T. Martin, who has served on the Atlanta City Council for 20 years, was impressed with Tinubu’s work in dealing with the number of abandoned properties in her district, in addition to the area’s crime.
“I’d like for her to be my congressperson because of her tenacity,” Martin said.
Felicia Moore was Tinubu’s assistant on Atlanta City Council from 1994 to 1997. She remembers her boss getting the community involved in noticing code enforcement issues such as abandoned cars, trash accumulating in residents’ yards and other eyesores.
A passion for those code enforcement issues led Tinubu to successfully fight a proposal to take old box cars from the railroads and convert them to homes for the homeless, Moore said.
“The spaces weren’t bigger than a jail cell,” she said.
Tinubu’s former assistant also credits her former boss with her own political growth. Today, Moore serves on Atlanta’s city council.
“Frankly, I don’t consider her a politician. She’s a public servant first,” Moore said.
Will move for Congress?
Tinubu moved higher in politics after leaving Atlanta City Council, and she left a seat in the Georgia state legislature to move back to South Carolina last year.
But was it the opportunity to serve the public in Congress that led Tinubu back to Georgetown County in 2011, after the new 7th District was created?
That’s what some critics allege, but it’s an allegation Georgetown County Democratic Chairwoman Nancy Kohlman doesn’t buy.
Kohlman considers Tinubu an excellent candidate, with an impressive background as an economist.
“I find her to be quite down to earth, and a person’s candidate,” Kohlman said.
City of Georgetown Mayor Jack Scoville supports Tinubu for Congress because he feels she’d be a greater advocate for the dredging of the Port of Georgetown.
Scoville said he’s met Tinubu several times and considers her charming, despite one small flaw.
“I’m sorry that she’s a Clemson fan,” Scoville joked.
Her allegiance to her college alma mater aside, Tinubu has stressed throughout her campaign that her allegiance would be to all those in the 7th District if she is sent to Washington.
Since her youth, the one thing Tinubu said she’s never been afraid of doing is offering her services to others.
“It’s just who I am,” she said.
The State newspaper contributed to this report.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.