OK, the 2014 elections are over. It's still too early to play Christmas music on the radio, but it's not too early to start talking about the November 2015 race for mayor of Charleston.
With longtime Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. saying he'll step down after his 10th and final term, challengers are already lining up for the first Riley-free election in four decades. And some of them are already proving how serious they are: As of the mid-October filing deadline with the State Ethics Commission, three confirmed candidates — John Tecklenburg, Dick Elliott, and Dean Riegel — were already reporting that they had raised a combined $215,000. That sum is more than twice what Riley's challengers raised in the last election in 2011.
Gird your loins for the next election season, Charleston. Here are your candidates:
Restaurant developer Dick Elliott, president and founder of Maverick Southern Kitchens, says he wouldn't have considered a run for mayor if Riley were up for re-election. But as a restaurateur, Elliott's views on late-night business regulation differ from those of the longtime mayor. "There are already, in my view, adequate ordinances, regulations, and laws on the books to govern the way those businesses operate," Elliott says.
If elected mayor, Elliott says he would look to address the gentrification of middle-class neighborhoods. And as high-tech startups move to Charleston, he says he would also work to ensure the survival of "good wage jobs that will allow people to afford better housing." Elliott reported that he had raised $80,375 for his campaign as of Oct. 13.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a former union leader and City Council member, says he is definitely running for mayor in 2015. He says one of his first priorities as mayor would be to pass a 10-percent pay increase for all city employees. He also says he would work to create a new late-night entertainment district that's farther removed from the city's historic neighborhoods than the current bar zones of Upper King and the Market.
Gilliard says he would work to ensure that affordable housing is maintained on the peninsula. "You have to have that balance when it comes to the middle class, the rich, and the underserved," Gilliard says. "We have to have a plan, and I do have a plan that I feel like would have an impact in that area."
City Councilman Dean Riegel unintentionally became the first person to announce his candidacy in October 2013. Riegel, the senior vice president of business development and strategic planning at the Carolina Center for Occupational Health, says the next mayor of Charleston needs to focus on caring for the city's senior population as well as creating parks, greenways, and bike paths for young families and children. He also says the city needs to renew its focus on West Ashley.
Commercial realtor and former city Director of Economic Development John Tecklenburg announced his candidacy in April, and he's currently leading the fundraising race with $97,946 as of his latest State Ethics Commission report on Oct. 6. As the former owner of Southern Oil Company, he has spent much of his career working in the industrial Neck area, and he says one of his priorities would be to encourage the development of the long-dormant Magnolia project in that community. He also says he's interested in quality-of-life issues including mobility, public transportation, education, and sustainable housing.
"I know that Charleston is ranked No.1 as a tourist destination," Tecklenburg says. "I want to see us ranked No. 1 for our own citizens that live here."
Attorney and former City Council member Paul Tinkler hadn't planned on announcing his candidacy until after his daughter Mary Tinkler had finished her run for the state House of Representatives, but the Post and Courier forced his hand after discovering that he'd already raised $33,500 for the mayoral race as of Oct. 10. As mayor, he says one of his priorities would be transportation, including extending I-526, improving safety for bicyclists, and investing in public transportation. He also says he would place a renewed focus on West Ashley.
"When Mayor Riley took office almost 40 years ago now, he focused on the heart of the city, as any good doctor would — you treat the vital organs first," Tinkler says. "Now I think we can all declare that the heart is healthy, so it's a question of managing the success of downtown Charleston while extending those successes to West Ashley, James Island, and Daniel Island."
City Councilman Aubry Alexander says he is "still in the due-diligence period" in deciding whether to run for mayor. If he runs for mayor, he'll have to forego a run for re-election to City Council because his seat is up for an election in 2015. In a city that has become, in his own words, "very blue," Alexander says he would bring conservative leadership to the mayor's office. "I guess my approach would be very much free market. I'm not for the entrenched power managing people's lives," Alexander says. "What do we stand for? Are we a free people, or are we a government that manages people?"
Commercial realtor and developer Henry Fishburne, who previously served on City Council from 2000 to 2007, says he is considering a run for mayor. "We've done a good job of making the city accessible and a fun place for visitors, and I think we need to continue to do that, but we need to shift the focus to how we can make it a better place to live," Fishburne says. In the 2011 election, Riley identified Fishburne as a supporter of the anonymous political group Citizens for a Better Charleston, which criticized Riley via mailers and two websites. "Mayor Riley and I have not always agreed on everything, but I have tremendous respect for him and the job he has done and his legacy," Fishburne says. "If I decide to run, my campaign will be about how we move the city forward together."
City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, who has previously run for mayor against Riley, said in October 2013 that he was considering a run for mayor. He could not be reached for comment last week. "If the mayor does not run, I walk in as a leader, and they'll all be coming at me," Gregorie said in 2013. "If I can hold my base together, at a minimum, I'm assured of a runoff." Gregorie previously served as CEO of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's South Carolina field office in Columbia.
Utility contractor Marc Knapp, a perennial candidate who has run for mayor twice in addition to several runs for City Council and County Council, says he puts the probability of his running for mayor at 25 to 30 percent. He has been known to boast that he has a better City Council attendance record than some councilmembers — and he might be right. A frequent speaker during the meetings' public input sessions, he often criticizes Riley for his handling of infrastructure projects including drainage improvements. If he runs for mayor, he says he would oppose the city's practice of giving money for "frou-frou stuff" like charities, Spoleto Festival USA, and the MOJA Arts Festival.
Attorney and City Councilman Mike Seekings says he's "definitely interested" in the mayor post, but he won't make a decision until after Jan. 1. Seekings is currently starting the second year of his second term representing District 8, which includes South of Broad, Harleston Village, and Radcliffeborough. "My thing about all this is, whether I run or not, the next mayor needs to make sure that at the top of the agenda is transportation," Seekings says. "Accessibility and transportation is the key to the world."
In the week running up to his Nov. 4 re-election to the state House of Representatives, attorney Leon Stavrinakis said he was still undecided on whether he would make a run for mayor in 2015. "When the time is right, I'll sit down with my wife and see if that is a good fit for my life and if I can serve my community better that way," he said. "I'm certainly going to take a look at it when and if the time comes."
Maurice Washington, owner of the insurance and consulting business Trust Management LLC, says some people have approached him about running in 2015. "A lot of careful thoughts must go into an ultimate decision, so I haven't ruled it in yet, nor have I ruled it out," Washington says. He previously ran for mayor in 1999 and made an unsuccessful bid for state Senate District 42 in 2013.
Former state Rep. Jimmy Bailey was telling the press as recently as April that he was considering a run for mayor, but now he says he's going to stay out of the race. "Unless something dramatic happens, I'm out of it," Bailey says.
Andy Brack, president of the Center for a Better South and publisher of StatehouseReport.com, said in October 2013 that he would not run for mayor.
Former Democratic Congressional candidate Elizabeth Colbert Busch, director of business development at Clemson University's Restoration Institute, is ineligible to run because she lives in Mt. Pleasant.
Attorney and County Councilwoman Colleen Condon, who recently made headlines by applying for a marriage license with her same-sex partner, says she might consider a run for mayor eventually, but she will stay out of the race in 2015. "It's certainly the best job I can imagine, but it's not for me to run next year," Condon says.
Teacher Craig H. Jelks, who ran for mayor in 2011, says he will not be running for mayor in 2015 because he has moved to Columbia.
2011 mayoral candidate Joshua R. Kennedy says he is no longer eligible to run for mayor because he has moved to Wadmalaw Island.
Linda Ketner, co-founder of the Alliance For Full Acceptance and a previous Democratic Congressional candidate, said in 2013 that she was giving "serious thought" to a run for mayor. But she announced in July of this year that she will not run for office, saying that she needs to focus on caring for her ailing mother.
Clay Middleton, congressional affairs liaison for the U.S. Department of Energy, said in October 2013 that he would not be running for mayor.
City Councilman Bill Moody says he plans to run for re-election to Council in 2015.
City Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson said after a recent City Council meeting that she is definitely not going to run for mayor in 2015. "I don't want to ruin my life," she said.