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Samuel Tenenbaum, husband of South Carolina Senate candidate Inez Tenenbaum (D), has been called everything from “Renaissance man” and “bulldog” to, yes, even “a player” by insiders and operatives in Palmetto State politics.
But perhaps the best adjective used to describe the 60-year-old retired businessman through the years in state Democratic politics is “enigma.”
For more than a decade, Samuel Tenenbaum has been viewed as a key South Carolina Democratic activist and contributor; Democrats seeking office in the state eagerly vye for his support and endorsement. And yet, Samuel Tenenbaum has never held an elected office and, as far as contributions go, he is not a million-dollar donor.
Since the 2000 election cycle he has contributed a little more than $50,000 to federal campaigns and in the area of $10,000 to state campaigns. He is a
lifelong Democrat, but he also gave $1,000 to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2000 presidential campaign and served on a government restructuring committee formed by South Carolina’s Republican governor, Mark Sanford.
And while he is well-known in South Carolina Democratic circles, it is his wife, Inez, the state superintendent of education, who is known by the voters. She was the top votegetter in the state in both her 1998 election and 2002 re-election.
“I think that every Democrat who’s run for office in South Carolina has had some influence, whether it be financially or advice-wise from Sam,” said South Carolina Democratic consultant Trav Robertson.
“Sam is terrific at understanding the party as a whole and how it operates all around the state. He’s very bright and very passionate,” said South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin.
But Erwin also admits, “Sam says what’s on his mind. He’s a guy that’s going to speak his mind and whatever he’s thinking is not real filtered, [which] concerns some people.”
And that quality has some South Carolina Democrats worried.
Samuel Tenenbaum came to South Carolina in November 1969 from Georgia and made his money in his family steel business. He married Inez in June 1983 and, since retiring three years ago, serves on 17 different boards and commissions for various civic and social programs in the state.
“I’ve been involved in politics from my college days ... I’ve contributed all my life. Our family philosophy has always been that you have to give back,” Tenenbaum said in a recent interview.
But as his wife gears up for next year’s race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Fritz Hollings, state Democrats disagree about whether Samuel Tenenbaum will be an outspoken advocate who will boost his wife’s campaign, or a political loose cannon who may need to be reined in before he goes off half-cocked.
At least part of that fear stems from an incident back in August when Inez Tenenbaum was forced to announce her Senate candidacy a few weeks ahead of her planned schedule after local media got hold of an e-mail Samuel Tenenbaum sent to a group of supporters confirming his wife’s intent to run.
According to local media reports, after the incident, Inez said her husband “gets a reprieve because it’s his 60th birthday.”
However, some political watchers predict that this won’t be the only time Tenenbaum oversteps his bounds in his wife’s campaign.