Author visits Hartsville Library to talk John Jenrette, Abscam sting

John Clark reminisces about his days in the Pee Dee Region before joining the office of John Jenrette in Washington, D.C. Photo by Melissa Rollins

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

When John F. Clark visited the Hartsville Memorial Library to talk about his book Capitol Steps and Missteps: The Wild Improbable Ride of Congressman John Jenrette, it was a little bit of a homecoming and a little bit of a gossip session featuring players in the Darlington County community and the Pee Dee Region.

Clark grew up in Kingstree but has a strong connection to Darlington County.

“My mama is from Dovesville; only in this room can I say that and people know where Dovesville is,” Clark joked. “Her father was a farmer and at one time he ran the airport out there. That main house there at the intersection of Highway 52 and Mont Clare Road, that was her family house; I spent a lot of summers in Dovesville and have a lot of fond memories of it.”

Clark said that he was one of a large brood of cousins who roamed around Dovesville. “There were sixteen of us first cousins and we hung out there a lot,” Clark said. “There were several stores there and you’d go in and they’d say ‘Which one are you? Who do you belong to?’ In Dovesville, my mama was known as Cooter so they’d say ‘That there is Cooter’s boy.”

After leaving Kingstree, Clark went to college and into the military before his paths would cross with John Jenrette.

“I went to Davidson College, Syracuse University…and went into the Army for a couple of years,” Clark said. “I was down in Florida teaching political science. My dad was telling me about this young progressive congressman who had just gotten elected…I wrote a letter and said that I would like to come work with him in Washington. I got a call from his mentor, a guy named Rob Floyd…I get in the office there and Rob says ‘We can talk a little bit but I’m telling you right now we’re hiring you.”

Clark went on to serve as a top aide for Jenrette during his six years in office and had a front row seat to all of his political successes and personal failures.

Clark said that Jenrette was an unusual politician, courting minority voters and seeming to genuinely care about them at a time when most politicians acted as though they didn’t exist. He was well-liked, both in South Carolina and in Washington, earning himself a seat on the House Majority Leadership Team as a freshman congressman.

Capitol Steps and Missteps chronicles the years leading up to the Abscam sting, run by the FBI, that was the misstep Jenrette could not smooth talk his way out of.

Clark said that there are several names in the book that people in Hartsville will recognize.

“In my book, there are a few Hartsville characters like Bill Craig who ran for Congress and was a major player in 1972,” Clark said. “Later, we have some mention of Ed Saleeby; Ed knew was he was doing and he didn’t get too close to any of this but he was certainly a power back in the day. There is also a sad story, in my opinion a sad story, about a Hartsville fellow Billy Lowe. I didn’t really know Billy Lowe but everything I knew about him was generally good and I think he was a victim in some of the stuff that was going on and an unknowing victim at that.”

Author: Duane Childers

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