Paine official is driven by love for politics, education

Sunday, May 31, 2009 11:58 PM
Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010 12:21 AM
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It’s no small task ahead for Brandon Brown.

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Brandon Brown is responsible for raising money to build Paine College's health and learning complex.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Brandon Brown is responsible for raising money to build Paine College's health and learning complex.

As Paine College’s vice president of institutional development, he’s in charge of raising $20 million for the school’s Health Education Activities Learning Complex, a major component of President George Bradley’s plan for growing the school into a premier liberal arts institution.

When Dr. Bradley recruited him for the job in early 2008, he got anything but a neophyte when it comes to rallying communities around causes. At 33, Mr. Brown has twice run for political office, organized an annual football and basketball tournament for black colleges, co-founded one of the largest black gatherings in South Carolina and worked on Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.

Mr. Brown said he has been driven by his passions for politics and education.

“We all have a responsibility to make life better for the generation that comes after,” he said. “Where I am in my journey, I want to know that I’m involved in something where we’re all working together and building something that we’re going to be proud of.”

Mr. Brown grew up in Greenville, S.C., and majored in history at Paine, his father’s alma mater. Augusta’s hotly contested mayor’s race in 1998, the year Bob Young defeated Ed McIntyre in a runoff, sparked his interest in politics. Mr. Brown was involved in voter registration drives and said he supported Mr. Young.

After graduating, Mr. Brown worked as an admissions counselor at Claflin University, a historically black college in Orangeburg, S.C. In 2004, he founded the Greenville Historically Black Colleges and Universities Classic, a basketball tournament that was later expanded to include football.

Around this time, a pastor friend suggested he get into politics. He said he paid a $3,100 filing fee and in 2004 became the first black candidate to run for South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District, which covers the Greenville-Spartanburg area.

He won a primary election but was trounced by U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., who won with 185,175 votes (70 percent) to Mr. Brown’s 77,474 (29 percent). Mr. Brown was a long shot in the highly conservative district, and his opponent outspent him considerably.

“That’s when you really get an understanding about what politics is,” Mr. Brown said. “In politics, you have to raise money. In this system we live in, the wealthy and the affluent have the inroads into getting those big dollars.”

He tried again, this time for state office, in 2006. Phil Shoopman defeated him for state House District 18 with 6,877 votes (73 percent) to Mr. Brown’s 2,550 (27 percent).

“Actually, for a Democrat running in that area, I did pretty well,” Mr. Brown said.

Throughout th at period, he’d been making connections. In 2004, he met Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama, who came to Columbia to campaign for Inez Tenenbaum in her failed run for U.S. Senate. In 2005, he co-founded the annual Upstate Black Family Reunion, held in Greenville’s Lakeside Park and attended by more than 20,000 people. In 2006, Mr. Biden was a keynote speaker at a luncheon for the black colleges classic.

Mr. Brown said he found himself being courted to work for the Biden, Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigns in the lead-up to the 2008 presidential race. He went with Mr. Biden, becoming his political director for South Carolina.

He scheduled the candidate’s events, picked him up at airports and helped him with fundraising. Mr. Brown said he remembers Mr. Biden riding in the passenger seat of his car, and it’s strange now to see him as vice president, surrounded by Secret Service agents, being lampooned by the press for verbal gaffes.

“Joe Biden is exactly what you see on TV,” Mr. Brown said. “If you ask Joe a question, out of all the politicians I’ve met, he’s gonna’ actually try to answer the question.”

At Paine, Mr. Brown oversees fundraising for scholarships and endowments and furthering the college’s strategic plan, which includes purchasing surrounding properties, building more dormitories and expanding classroom space. He said Paine has raised about $2 million so far, not including pledges, for the HEAL complex, which will be built beside Carter Gym. The design includes a 5,000-seat arena, an 8,200-square-foot multipurpose room, a weight room, an Olympic-size swimming pool and a walking track, along with classrooms, teaching labs and a lecture hall.

The project is to receive $2.5 million in special-purpose sales tax funds if the $184.7 million package going before voters June 16 passes.

“I think the community is really showing faith, and the commission is showing faith, in the direction of the college,” Mr. Brown said. “This is a sound investment for this community.”

BRANDON P. BROWN

Age: 33

Occupation: Paine College’s vice president of institutional development

Family: Single; parents live in Greenville, S.C.

Background: Graduated from Paine College in 2000; ran unsuccessfully for South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District in 2004; ran unsuccessfully for South Carolina state House District 18 in 2006; founded the Greenville Historically Black Colleges and Universities Classic; co-founded Greenville’s Upstate Black Family Reunion; worked for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in 2007


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