This is the second in a series of posts that highlight our elected officials and candidates, focusing on what drove them to public service. Hopefully, their stories will help inspire YOU to make a difference and help turn South Carolina Blue!
We recently spoke with State Senator Floyd Nicholson about his career as a public servant, a legacy that spans over 35 years! Since his first campaign for Greenwood City Council in 1982, he has never lost an election. We wanted to understand his motivation to run for public office and what’s driven him towards a life of civil service for these many decades.
You are a lifelong resident of Greenwood, correct?
Yes. I was born, raised, and aside from time in college, I’ve lived in Greenwood, SC. I was the youngest of ten children in an impoverished neighborhood. My father passed away when I was only five years old and my mother did everything she could to raise us. Some of my siblings had to dropout of school to support the family.
After I graduated from South Carolina State, I returned to Greenwood and started a career in education and coaching right here at Greenwood High School.
Was there a tipping point that drove you run for City Council in 1982?
When I was a student at South Carolina State University, I was there at the Orangeburg Massacre. In 1968, a “No Blacks Allowed” policy at a local bowling alley led to a protest on campus against racial segregation. Three young men were killed by SC Highway Patrol officers that night.
Anger from that event stayed with with me throughout the 70’s during my years as a Biology and Science teacher at Greenwood High School. But then, with the support of my wife, Mamie, I decided to turn that negative energy into something positive and ran for Greenwood City Council. I had to get involved in something to try to make a difference.
What was it like being a political novice running for office for the first time?
My wife and I knocked on just about every door in the city – covering about 80% I think. I was on one side of the street and my wife pushing a strolling carrying my twins was on the other side. But I wanted to be visible and I think that’s the key thing that led me to where I am today.
I was really shocked when I was elected to the seat on Greenwood City Council. I had won about 60% of the votes. My first day on the job was the swearing in ceremony, my mother and family were in attendance. I was very overwhelmed.
How did you learn the rules and procedures; discover what powers & limitations the elected position had?
On the job training. That’s all it is. You have to pay attention, be involved.
After City Council you decided to run for Mayor of Greenwood. What was that like?
I was on the City Council until 1993. I ran for Mayor in 1994 and became the first black mayor of Greenwood. Can you believe that?
I thought that even if I wasn’t successful in that election, it might encourage and ease the way for others who tried after me. It’s not about me, you see; it’s about opening doors for someone else.
I always consulted with my wife before making these types of decisions. We decided to do it. I ran unopposed for the next three terms.
The Mayor & City Council are non-partisan positions. You’re not out there campaigning as a Democrat or a Republican. You’re just campaigning to serve the city.
City Council and Mayor are not full time positions in Greenwood. What was your “day job” during that time?
While serving in City Council, I was working at the Burton Center. I later became Assistant Principal at North Side for 14 years. This overlapped my stint as Mayor of Greenwood. Although it was taxing on my time, I was able to work things out with the Principal.
You should know that the City Manager does most of the work. The Mayor and City Council serves in an advisory role. The City Council is responsible for hiring two people: the City Manager and the City Attorney. Everything else, the day-to-day management, falls under full-time city employees. We’re just the policy board of the city.
Tell me about your experience running for State Senate after stepping down as Mayor.
I decided to run for State Senate in 2008 after John Drummond retired. I was even courted by the Republican Party to switch parties! I met with the Democratic Caucus and they advised me that it would take $200,000 to maintain that Senate seat.
I asked myself, “Why you pay that much money for a position that pays $10,400 a year plus a per diem for expenses?” Someone even suggested that I take a mortgage on my house to raise money for my campaign.
No way. We decided that we’re only going to spend whatever we can raise. I only raised $65,000 and still won even though I was outspent 4:1 by my opponent. I won that election by less than 1000 votes.
There was mudslinging, but I didn’t get involved in all that. I was just going to go on my credentials and what I said I was going to do as Senator.
Politics can be dirty – but you don’t have to be dirty. It’s not a means to advance my own personal agenda. It’s about serving the people as best you can.
What’s the difference between being Mayor and serving as State Senator?
At a State level, you can’t just be concerned about your District – you have to be worried about the entire state. I’m a firm believer that all kids deserve the best possible education so I have to look out for those rural areas outside of Greenwood as well.
You’re not active at all on Social Media. How have you been able to achieve such success without it?
Social Media is crazy. People can say whatever they want.
I prefer to be accessible. I give people my home number and cell number. I’d rather speak with people directly.
What advice would you pass onto someone else pursuing an elected position for the first time?
The first time I was elected, this old lady told me something that was so important: Visibility. Be out and visible in the community. Don’t be one of those just shows up at election time.
I read the paper, see various scheduled public events, and instead of waiting to be invited, I just show up! I go to formal functions. I go local restaurants. All levels. That way, I’m able to find out about problems in the community first-hand.
I run all the time – not just during elections!