On Monday morning, some new campaign signs showed up amidst the sea of Riley for Mayor signs planted in front of the International Longshoremen's Association headquarters at 1142 Morrison Drive. They read, "Vote Roo for Mayor."
The labor union's Charleston branch, which represents stevedores and other people associated with the loading and unloading of ships, had permitted campaign workers to put up the signs supporting mayoral incumbent Joseph P. Riley Jr. weeks ago, but these new ones — bright red and yellow with a silhouetted pair of kangaroo ears — were an utter mystery at first.
ILA President Kenneth Riley returned to the headquarters on Monday night after some time out of town, and he was baffled by what he found. Initially, he mistook the kangaroo ears for Democratic donkey ears and wondered how someone could have entered the nonpartisan race at the last minute on a partisan ticket.
"I said, 'Who the heck is Roo?'" remembers Riley, who is no relation to the mayor. "I started calling around to some of the folks that knew about who all was in the mayor's race, and I said, 'Is there anybody in the race that I don't know about?'"
Nobody had an answer for him, so he walked out into the grass uprooted the signs. Only then did he notice the website at the bottom of each sign: vote4roo.com. Back in his office, he typed in the address, and all was revealed. Apparently, advertisers for Kangaroo gas stations had dreamed up the promotional stunt, and he had taken the bait. "I died laughing," Riley says.
As for the real mayoral candidate whose signs remain in the grass in front of the ILA building, Riley says that Mayor Riley has supported the union's cause throughout the length of his administration. He points to the mayor's support for the Charleston Five, dockworkers who were arrested in 2000 for picketing a non-union ship and later released after a protracted legal battle. Today, he says the union likes the mayor's firm stance in favor of cruise ships.
Cruise companies like Carnival "don't want to be associated with controversy, they want to be associated with fun family cruises," he says.
A final note: Riley says the campaign to elect William Dudley Gregorie contacted the ILA about putting some signs on his turf, and he turned them down because of Gregorie's support for cruise restrictions. "If you are coming after the industry where we make the living we make, there's no way in the world I can support you," he says.