COLUMBIA — One of South Carolina’s better known bare-knuckles political operatives announced in an online column Tuesday that he has a cancerous brain tumor.
Rod Shealy is publisher of six small newspapers in the state and operates a soda and ice cream shop. But he’s best known as a political consultant, frequently taking on long-odds candidates and using tactics that land him in trouble.
“As a political consultant and a newspaper publisher, I’m familiar with ’spin’ … but there’s not really much way to spin this: A few days ago, tests revealed I have a cancerous brain tumor,” Shealy wrote.
Shealy told The Associated Press Tuesday that he was just leaving the Medical University of South Carolina where he’s seeking treatment.
“I’m not exactly sure what the game plan or timetable is right now, but I feel good and very optimistic.”
Shealy is known for his colorful Hawaiian shirts, beard, a knack for taking on long shots and rule-breaking political play.
He gained national notoriety after he recruited an unemployed black fisherman to run against Arthur Ravenel for the U.S. House in 1990. The plan? Drive up local white voter turnout and help one of his sisters in a state primary the same day. The episode prompted a rewrite of the state’s ethics laws.
This year, he was accused of hiring a man who claimed he was not in the U.S. legally and photographing him working at a house owned by a client’s state Senate opponent in the June primary. The opponent said he went out of his way to make sure all the workers were properly documented. Shealy’s client lost her Senate seat.
When it came to his recent diagnosis, Shealy turned to Dr. Oscar Lovelace, the long-shot candidate he urged to run against Republican Gov. Mark Sanford in the 2006 GOP primary. Lovelace, who managed to pull 35 percent of the vote from Sanford, is planning a 2010 bid.
“He has been a champion for a lot of folks who might be considered underdogs and who may not be tied to big money,” Lovelace said.
Lovelace, a family practice doctor, hadn’t seen Shealy as a patient previously. But Shealy turned to him when he had persistent headaches last month and other problems. “He was having language difficulties and periods where he couldn’t remember what he needed to say. He was mixing up numbers and letters,” Lovelace said.
Given Shealy’s past bout with skin cancer, those were troubling signs, Lovelace said.