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ELECTION 2024: Council veteran faces ex-election official

Times & Democrat - 5/29/2024

May 29—A veteran incumbent Orangeburg County councilwoman is facing a former Orangeburg County voter registration and election official in the June 11 Democratic primary.

County Council District 5 Councilwoman Janie Cooper is opposed by former county Orangeburg County Voter Registration and Elections Director Howard Jackson.

Cooper has been on council since 1995. It is not the first time she has had a Democratic primary challenger.

In 2020, she defeated Christopher Glover and James Darold Wilson with nearly 65% of the vote. In 2012, she defeated Delano Scott in the primary.

Jackson is a political newcomer.

The winner does not face any Republican challenger in the general election. The winner will serve a four-year term.

Cooper

Cooper is running on her nearly 30 years service on council and the list of things she has been able to do while on council.

"May the work I have done speak for me," Cooper said.

She cites a number of contributions to the county while on council.

These include:

— Enhanced the fire district through funding support.

— Expanded water and sewer access to previously underserved areas.

— Championed an ordinance enabling property tax payments in installments, easing financial strain on residents.

— Collaborated with former Orangeburg County Councilman John Rickenbacker to actualize a year-round recreational vision, securing funding for the Orangeburg County Aquatic Center (YMCA).

— Helped create thousands of jobs through industrial recruitment and retention.

— Helped create nine industrial parks and 22 convenience sites.

— Responsible for getting traffic lights installed at the intersections of U.S. Highway 601 and Bruin Parkway, U.S. 601 and Stilton Road, State A&M Road (Hillcrest Golf Club area) and St. Matthews Road, U.S. Highway 178 and Kennerly Road, and Belleville Road and Kings Road.

— Responsible for getting speed limit reduced from 45 mph to 35 mph from U.S. 601 to the Mabry Cancer Center on Cook Road.

— Sponsored an ordinance to tear down dilapidated housing.

— Supported funding for law enforcement.

— Organized a countywide cleanup to battle litter.

— Supported broadband in the educational system.

— Allocated funds for the senior citizens center.

— Supported and led in the construction of a new Orangeburg County Library and Conference Center on Russell Street.

— Obtained funding for a community center in the Nix Stilton/New Brookland areas.

Revitalized Harmon Park.

She says there is more to do.

"I am motivated by the desire to address unfinished business and utilize my 29 years of experience as a county council member to continue moving District 5 and Orangeburg County forward," Cooper said.

"With a focus on bringing better-paying jobs and affordable housing to the area, I am committed to making Orangeburg County a better place to live, work and play."

"I believe in the American dream of achieving financial stability, home ownership and a family. I am dedicated to ensuring that this dream becomes a reality for all who desire it," Cooper said.

Outside of her work on council, Cooper has been recognized in the community in a number of capacities.

These include:

— Former president of Church Women United of Orangeburg.

— Inducted into the 2019 Voorhees University National Alumni Hall of Fame.

YMCA Community Ambassador Award.

— Lower Savannah Council of Governments Board Member of the Year (the first recipient of the award).

— Served as past chairwoman and present board member of LSCOG.

— SC Alliance for Mobile Infrastructure Rural Elected Official of the Year.

— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award given by Delta Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.

— Received the Governor's Distinguished Award.

— Previously contributed to the SC Advisory Council on Aging.

— Organized and served as the first president of the Bonneville Community Improvement Organization.

— Received the Palmetto Pride Leaders Against Litter 2019 Award.

— Honored as a Life Member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

— Active member of the Orangeburg County Democratic Party.

— Actively involved in Olive Grove Missionary Baptist Church, where she served as a past trustee board member.

A native of Blackville, Cooper grew up in Denmark.

She graduated from Voorhees High School and then went on to attend Voorhees University, where she earned a bachelor of arts in 1969, followed by the acquisition of a master of education from South Carolina State University.

While at SCSU, Cooper garnered certifications as a high school principal, reading teacher and education administration specialist. She served in education for three decades on the high school level and at Denmark Technical College until her retirement in 1999.

Upon retirement, Cooper served as an adjunct professor at SCSU.

Cooper served on various boards, commissions and organizations before being elected to Orangeburg County Council.

She was the first African American woman to be elected to council and was the only female on council for 22 years.

The widow of retired veteran Wallace Wendell Smith, Cooper is the mother of four children, grandmother of three, mother-in-law, stepmother of two, step-grandmother of two, step-great-grandmother of three and adopted mother of two.

Cooper enjoys spending time with family, friends and traveling.

Jackson

Jackson is running for elected office for the first time.

"As an Orangeburg native, I believe that local government, run by local people who genuinely care about their community, can make a significant difference in the lives of the constituents there," Jackson said.

Jackson said he has a number of priorities, including addressing homelessness, enhancing infrastructure and creating a countywide parks and recreation department.

— Homelessness: "My first priority is addressing the homelessness situation in Orangeburg County," Jackson said. "I have partnered with the Samaritan House for several years, including volunteering for the United Way of the Midlands' 'Point-in-Time Count.'

"The homelessness situation is not coming to Orangeburg County, it's already here," Jackson said. "The Samaritan House is doing a great job; however, they have limited resources. I strongly believe that Orangeburg County can and should be doing more to address this issue."

— Infrastructure: "I would like to provide the citizens of Orangeburg County Council District 5 with a realistic timeline as to when their roads will be paved and when their neighborhoods can expect to have public sewer systems installed," Jackson said. "In December 2022, new sewer lines were promised in the Hidden Valley and Conover Hill subdivisions with a construction start date of March 2023 and a completion date of December 2023; however, the project has been stalled."

— Parks and recreation:"Orangeburg County has 17 municipalities and only the City of Orangeburg has an organized parks and recreation commission," Jackson said. "The City of Orangeburg assesses Orangeburg County youths who do not reside in the City of Orangeburg a fee for participating in youth sports programs.

"I strongly believe this effort will reduce school absenteeism, reduce youthful crimes and, hopefully, minimize local gang activities," Jackson said.

Jackson is no stranger to Orangeburg County.

He became the first African American to serve as the Orangeburg County Voter Registration and Elections director when he was hired in January 2008. He served in the position until June 2013.

"During my tenure at Orangeburg County, I enjoyed assisting both voters and candidates," Jackson said. "I can vividly recall assisting an African American man who informed me that he was more than 90 years old and never voted. He told me that he was moved by then-candidate Barack Obama and he decided to vote for the first time.

"I am also proud that the office was able to recruit high school students to work as poll managers, thus getting them actively involved in the political process," Jackson said. "Our grassroots campaign strongly believes that we can continue to bring the underserved and neglected populations into the political process."

Jackson says he is uniquely qualified for the seat.

"I have the educational, work, military and community experience to join the Orangeburg County Council to create needed change, as well as the faith necessary to lead this community with integrity," Jackson said.

"As Nelson Mandela so eloquently stated, 'we can change the world,' but it is in the hands of council members, residents, and each community to take the critical steps that will make a far-reaching difference.

Following his time as director of Orangeburg County elections, Jackson was hired by Richland County Voter Registration and Elections to serve as director to replace Lillian McBride, who resigned after she came under heavy criticism for her agency's performance in the November 2012 general election.

Jackson was fired from the position in February 2014 after serving for about eight months.

According to media reports, Jackson was fired for insubordination due personnel decisions he made in the department. The county's election board did not provide any public statement at the time for the reason of Jackson's termination.

"Unfortunately, an out-of-court settlement prohibits me for publicly commenting on my tenure in Richland County," Jackson said.

A native of Orangeburg, Jackson graduated from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School, later receiving an associate degree in human resource management from the Community College of the Air Force, a bachelor of science in criminal justice from South Carolina State University (cum laude), and a master of public administration from the University of South Carolina.

Jackson currently serves as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of HoJac Enterprises Inc., a non-profit corporation.

He is also a board member of the SC State University Real Estate Foundation; an independent real estate agent; and a political and government consultant.

Jackson is a graduate of the Leadership Orangeburg County Program and the South Carolina Association of Counties Institute of Government for County Officials Level II Program.

Jackson retired from the United States Air Force Reserve after 28 years, during which he completed an involuntary mobilization to active-duty service in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During his time in the Air Force, he was a senior facilitator for the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. The YRRP is a Department of Defense effort to promote the well-being of National Guard and Reserve members, their families and communities by connecting them with resources throughout the deployment cycle.

Jackson is active in a number of community organizations.

He is involved in the SC State University National Alumni Association, Life Member; the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., where he served as the 40th Sixth District representative; and is an at-large director for the board of directors of the Omega Life Membership Foundation Inc., for which he serves as the chair of the audit committee.

He also serves as vice president of Carolina Uplift Foundation Inc. a non-profit organization, and the Sixth District Event Planner.

He has served as steward pro tem at Greater St. Peter AME Church in Cameron for more than 15 years.

He also serves on the board of directors of New Perspectives Media (93.7) FM.

Jackson is not married and does not have children.

He enjoys reading and traveling.

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

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