Every year about this time, usually on a rather blustery December day, dozens of City of Greenwood employees gather at the city barn just off Phoenix Street and have a meal together.
Specifically, they gather for the annual mayor’s cookout.
You might have read about this year’s mayor’s cookout in Thursday’s paper. It was a tradition started many years ago by then-Mayor Floyd Nicholson.
In an effort to show his appreciation for the city’s workers, Nicholson hosted — and funded — a barbecue for them, working the grill and helping serve the meals.
Nicholson has now moved on the South Carolina Senate, but the tradition of the mayor’s cookout lives on with Mayor Welborn Adams. Like Nicholson, Adams pays for the cookout out of his own pocket and attends the cookout, greeting the various city workers who show up for the meal.
The annual cookout is not a huge deal, but it is a great opportunity for municipal workers who spend most of their time focusing on their own departments to break bread with those from other departments.
It is not uncommon at the mayor’s cookout to see police officers dining and socializing with garbagemen, or firefighters mingling with city councilmen or members of the city’s finance office.
I’ve covered the mayor’s cookout for many years. It makes for some good photos and a nice story during the holiday season. However, several years ago, back when Nicholson was still Greenwood’s mayor, I started hearing certain rumblings.
Specifically, I noticed Nicholson would often brag about his “famous” chili.
Indeed, each year during the mayor’s cookout, Nicholson brings a large pot of chili. The senator then posts up with the pot at he end of a table and dutifully spreads the chili on the hot dogs and hamburgers of the various city employees who come through the line.
Now, I’ll admit Nicholson’s chili is pretty good. Quite tasty, in fact. But, I’m not sure how famous it is.
The recipe for the senator’s chili has become, for reasons unknown, a closely guarded secret. In fact, it has become a running joke that, each year at the cookout, I ask him to go on record and reveal his recipe and he declines to do so.
That continued during this year’s cookout.
“So, are you going to finally give me the recipe for that chili?” I asked the senator, as he spread some on a hot dog for a Greenwood Police officer.
“It’s hard to remember,” Nicholson said, with a laugh. “ I wrote it down, but I left it at home. I’ll call and give it to you.”
Needless to say, I never received that call.
While he has always been complimentary of Nicholson’s “famous” chili, Adams has grown skeptical as to whether the senator is actually the chef responsible for the spicy concoction.
In fact, Adams has gone as far as to say he thinks Nicholson’s wife, Mamie, is the actual chili specialist.
Nicholson brushed those accusations aside, saying Mamie “assists” him with the chili, but he is the “head cook.”
It seems that assurance might not be enough for Adams, however. During a phone interview on Friday, Adams issued a special challenge to Nicholson.
THE LAKELANDS HOMEBUILDERS ASSOCIATION is set to host its annual Chili Cook-Off on Feb. 7, 2014. The cook-off, which is an event that seems to grow each year, serves as a fundraiser for the Lakelands HBA scholarship programs.
While numerous entrants are set to compete in the annual Lakelands HBA Chili Cook-Off, it appears there could be a separate one-on-one competition at this year’s event: Adams vs. Nicholson.
That’s right, the current mayor is challenging the former mayor in a battle for chili supremacy.
“You know what, I would love to have a chili cook-off with Senator Nicholson,” Adams said. “I actually have my own chili recipe and I am pretty proud of it. I’d be glad to do it. I’d be more than happy to bring my chili. I feel confident in my chili.”
Adams went a step further, suggesting he would actually be in favor of Index-Journal executive editor Richard Whiting observing the cooking of the chili, to assure certain quality controls.
“I’d really like it if Richard would monitor the senator’s cooking, so we can verify that it is, indeed, his chili and not Mamie’s,” Adams said. “I know he has a lot of investigative reporters at his disposal, so if Richard Whiting will verify that the chili is indeed a product — 100 percent — of the senator’s, then I’ll concede it is a good chili. But, I still think I can make a better one.”
Adams said he also would be willing to submit to observation by Whiting.
When asked about Adams’ challenge, Nicholson said he is ready.
“Yeah, tell him I’m game,” Nicholson said.
The senator was asked if he thought he could defeat Adams in a chili cook-off.
“Oh, I know I can,” Nicholson said, letting forth a long, confident laugh. “I feel real good about it.”
For his part, Whiting agreed to observe the cooking. He also noted he has a pile of Freedom of Information Act requests at the ready in the event either of the contestants refuse to divulge their ingredients.
On Friday, Marion Moore, of the Lakelands HBA, agreed to let Adams and Nicholson compete against each other as a separate aspect of February’s cook-off.
Can Nicholson, once and for all, convince Adams of the authenticity of his chili? Can Adams fend off Nicholson — much the way he fends off dissenting votes from City Councilmen Johnny Williams and Ronnie Ables —and win this contest?
Will Richard Whiting actually file a FOIA to determine a specific brand of cayenne pepper?
We’ll find out in February.
Trainor is the senior staff writer at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 943-5650; email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IJCHRISTRAINOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.