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Robert Ford

Ford

South Carolina State's board chairman does not want to speculate what the university will do with a Charleston lawmaker's request to have the 1890 Research and Extension building named after a convicted former state senator.

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S.C. House Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, wants SCSU to name its new building after former Charleston Democratic Sen. Robert Ford, letting his request be known to SCSU Board Chair Milton Irvin. The university plans to break ground in Charleston on the building Aug. 28.

"There is clearly a concern," Irvin said about Ford's past. "I was not around enough to know all the details. I will look for some guidance from some people who knew more about it."

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Ford, 70, resigned his seat in 2013 amid a Senate Ethics Committee probe into campaign finance law violations.

The state attorney general's office took up the case and Ford ended up pleading guilty to misconduct in office, forgery and two counts of ethics violations.

Ford avoided a trial but state prosecutors said they had information Ford withdrew money from his Senate and gubernatorial campaigns to cover such personal expenses as car payments, gas purchases, restaurant meals and sex toys.

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"It does raise a red flag," Irvin said of Ford's past.

He said the matter will be discussed at a future SCSU board meeting.

"He brought millions of dollars, not only to South Carolina State but to a lot of other historically black colleges and universities and no one can dispute that," Gilliard told The T&D Thursday. "Him being a civil rights leader and marching for the equality with both black and white people. The list goes on with the things he has accomplished on the state level."

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Both Sens. John Matthews, D-Bowman, and Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, declined to comment on support or opposition to naming a building after Ford.

"They (SCSU) board will need to vet the pros and cons of doing that to see what is in the best interest of the university," Hutto said. "They should look at it closely."

Hutto said there is nothing wrong with Gilliard's request, but he noted one could argue that a request from one individual would not be enough to prompt the naming of a building.

Hutto acknowledged Ford did some good things for the state, but concerns could be raised about naming a building after him due to his violations.

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Matthews echoed Hutto, noting the decision will be up to SCSU's board. He declined comment on the rightness or the wrongness of naming a building for Ford.

"They will make that judgment based on their evaluations of his contributions," Matthews said. "He certainly made some contributions, but he also made a mistake."

Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, and chairman of the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus declined comment on the request to name a building after Ford.

"I am not going to stand in judgment of Sen. Ford and his past or anybody else's," Govan said, noting that making such a judgment would "call into question" the past of many other individuals and the honoring of them through naming rights.

Govan said the decision on naming is up to SCSU and the Charleston delegation.

Gilliard defended Ford's service to the state.

"It was not like he was a segregationist or a racist or outright doing something in the blind," Gilliard said. "Robert Ford will always be seen as a bridge builder. That is what his record stands for."

Gilliard cited the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in Charleston as an example, noting that when the bridge was built, Ravenel specifically mentioned Ford during the ceremony.

Ravenel was a former Republican U.S. congressman.

"He (Ravenel) told a story of how Robert Ford was responsible for getting that one crucial vote needed to get the money appropriated to build the Ravenel bridge," Gilliard said.

Gilliard says Ford deserves to be honored because Charleston already has a building at the Medical University of South Carolina named for former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond as well as the Ravenel bridge.

"In the sight of many black and white people, the good outweighs the bad," Gilliard said. "If we forgive somebody that should not get in the face of honoring somebody for the worst they have done."

He noted there are people in the state who have "done other things" worse than Ford and have been honored in such a fashion.

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It is not uncommon for the state to name things after both current and past leaders but sometime it does not always work out well.

Just recently, South Carolina Department of Transportation Commissioners have agreed to consider removing John Hardee’s name from the Columbia airport expressway connector.

Hardee has pleaded guilty on an obstruction charge and subsequently was arrested on a prostitute solicitation charge.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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