Strong reaction from community sparked after church announces application for Steyer Foundation grant

Strong reaction from community sparked after church announces application for Steyer Foundation

WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina voters are 12 days away from heading to the polls to cast a ballot for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

Right now, Nevada is center stage in the campaign where the next debate and caucus will take place, but there’s still a spotlight shining on the palmetto state for the First in the South Primary.

In the polls right now, Joe Biden remains on top with 25%. Bernie Sanders is polling at 20% and Elizabeth Warren at 11%. However, it’s Tom Steyer who has made the biggest jump in the polls since the summer. In July, he had just 2% but is now polling at 18% this month.

Steyer’s campaign is making news on the campaign trail on Monday in the wake of an announcement at one of the largest black congregations in the state. During Sunday’s service at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia, Pastor Charles B. Jackson, Sr. mentioned applying for a grant from candidate Tom Steyer's foundation. The money would go toward renovations at the Lakeview Empowerment Center, which the church runs. The center runs after school programs as well as athletic programs for kids in the community. The announcement sparked strong reaction with some criticizing that it’s a way to buy votes.

“The response that I heard, especially on social media, a lot of folks felt like this is a billionaire trying to buy the election and I think that’s so unfair,” Columbia Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine. “Because, if you look at Tom and Kat’s dedication to really putting their money where their mouth is, they have been supporting charitable programs for man years.”

However, there’s controversy about what actually happened. Hours after the pastor’s announcement, Kat Taylor, Tom Steyer’s wife, was at Brookland Baptist taking part in a campaign dinner. Taylor told the Associated Press she did recently tour the facility but hadn't made any offers to fund the renovations. She said that would be inappropriate during the campaign.

“The visit where she saw and toured Lakeview Empowerment Center was several months ago, so our conversation with Pastor Jackson was several months ago, and I think they probably would have donated by now, but part of the reason they haven’t is because they don’t want the impression that they are trying to buy the election,” Isaac Devine said.

Tameika Isaac Devine arranged the tour for Taylor at Brookland Baptist a few months ago. She said Taylor supports the mission and wanted to back the project but later down the road after the campaign season.

“I think it’s unfortunate that people look at this in terms of the elections and feel like there is some motive behind it, but I really feel like the reason she wanted to support this is because it aligns with what they believe,” Isaac Devine said. “You got to be able to invest in stuff that makes the community better for the folks that live there.”

WIS reached out to the Brookland Baptist Church and Steyer’s campaign. We have not heard back from Brooklyn Baptist Officials, but Steyer’s campaign team declined to comment further.

This all comes as candidates try to qualify for South Carolina’ Democratic Presidential Debate on Feb. 25 in Downtown Charleston.

The Democratic National Committee has now released the qualifications. To qualify, candidates will need to have won at least one delegate in earlier primary contests, or cross a polling threshold of 10 percent nationally in four polls or 12% in two South Carolina polls.

According to the new thresholds, five candidates have already qualified. They include former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Senators Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. The debate will take place at the Gaillard Center in Downtown Charleston at 8 p.m., again on Feb. 25. The window to qualify closes the day before the debate one week from today.

Before the candidates head to South Carolina, they prepare for a big week in Nevada. Over the weekend, more than 18,000 Democrats showed up Saturday on the first day of early voting. Recent national polls don't yet show a runaway favorite Democratic presidential candidate in Nevada, so many of the candidates are in town to get more voters on their side.

This Wednesday, the top candidates in the Democratic presidential primary will meet once again on stage in Las Vegas. This will be the third contest of the presidential primary season.

You can watch that debate right here on WIS on Wednesday night at 9 p.m.

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