Most of Africa’s worst dictators began as benevolent saviors. From Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe to Idi Amin in Uganda, the leaders with the worst records came to power with zealous popular support. Now, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. is no tyrant, and the tribes warring over roads and development on Johns Island are not at risk of falling victim to genocide, but Riley’s recent willingness to throw his powerful shoulder around is disconcerting. When he wasn’t getting his way on I-526, he made the unprecedented move of trying to assert City of Charleston’s power over the project. He’s pushed to give cruise lines free rein along our shores, despite increasing evidence that their economic impact is exaggerated and the potential negative effect to the peninsula’s historic aura and our air and water quality could be damaging. Finally, he pushed through a $142 million “renovation” of the Gaillard Auditorium that resulted in pretty much the entire building being leveled to the ground (for a rebuild that will accommodate 900 fewer patrons than before). When aghast preservationists questioned the mayor’s definition of renovation, he shrugged them away, while the Gaillard’s nearby neighbors had to deal with a thick layer of dust on their cars, homes, and yards as the building was reduced to rubble. Sure, maybe the new Gaillard will be a point of pride for the city, and with construction scheduled for a late 2014 completion, it should be finished with plenty of time to plan a grandiose farewell ball for our career mayor after four decades in power.
Unless, of course, he just can’t let go.