Many followers of politics in the Lowcountry had expected Charleston City Councilman Tim Mallard to challenge Joseph P. Riley Jr. in this fall's mayoral showdown. But that was not to be.
Mallard, a frequent and vocal critic of Mayor Riley, has decided that his seat on City Council is more than enough for him right now. However, defending that seat won't be easy: Mallard is facing a formidable opponent in Andy Brack.
As City Paper columnist Will Moredock noted recently, Brack has the chops to make a fine city councilman. He once worked for Sen. Fritz Hollings, he currently runs a political consulting group, he's written a book about tax reform in the South, and he's the president and chairman of a progressive think tank. There's only one problem — he's a journalist and an active one at that.
Not only is Brack the publisher and writer for the internet news site Statehouse Report, he also pens a regular column in West Of, a weekly publication aimed at West Ashley residents. And these are the very same folks who will be casting their ballots for Brack or Mallard come November.
According to Jay Bender, an attorney with the South Carolina Press Association, Brack's membership in the Fourth Estate raises concerns. Bender says that no law would preclude Brack from having a column published while he is running for office. "The situation raises ethical concerns, but not legal concerns."
And exactly what would those ethical concerns be? Namely, that the reporter would use his position as a campaign tool, a tool that is not available to his opponents. It's important to note that the two standard bearers of the so-called liberal media — The New York Times and NPR — forbid their writers from running for public office.
"Most of my West Ashley constituents are calling me about his column in West Of," Mallard says. "I would love to have a column in the paper."
When it comes to Brack, Mallard is vague about what the columnist needs to do to address the issue. "It's up to him to morally do what is best," the councilman says.
But what is for the best? For Brack, it's doing exactly what he has been doing: writing a column in the West Of and for the Statehouse Report. After all, Brack says that he doesn't write about local issues; he focuses on state policy. He says, "I have talked to the folks at West Of and told them that I do not intend for any of my publications to write columns about issues regarding the City of Charleston."
He adds, "I'm a columnist. I have opinions about a variety of issues."
However, Brack says, if the staff at West Of feels that he has overstepped his boundaries, they are free to do what they think is right. "I have suggested to them that if they are not comfortable with printing something that I write over the next few months, they shouldn't do that."
When asked if writing a column for West Of gave him an advantage over Mallard, Brack says he says that he doesn't think it does.
As for the ethical issues voiced by Bender and Mallard, Brack says, "I'm not surprised that the hit squad is out, but I didn't thank that it would be this quick." (For the record, the City Paper contacted Bender after we learned that Brack, a fellow journalist, was running for office and then spoke with Mallard and the West Of columnist.)
For the time being, West Of Publisher and Editor Lorne Chambers plans to continue running Brack's column, which has run in the paper for two and a half years. The publisher says that he has spoken with Brack about his decision to run for office, and while Chambers doesn't feel that Brack's column raises ethical concerns for his paper, he is fine with the column so long as Brack doesn't urge readers to vote for him.
Chambers notes that Brack is in a particularly interesting predicament. "He's not some guy writing a column. He's a professional journalist," he says.
The publisher echoes Brack's claims that he writes primarily about statewide concerns. "Lately, he's been spending his time bashing Nikki Haley," Chambers says.
West Of's Chambers also has a possible solution to this unique ethical dilemma. "If Tim Mallard wanted to write a column for us, I'd love that," he says, adding that he would also like to run a series of debates in the West Of between Brack and Mallard.