While the race for Charleston's first new mayor in more than 40 years may have seized the spotlight, six seats on City Council are up for grabs and candidates are hoping to pull the city's attention away from the peninsula.
The District 1 race is between incumbent Gary White and challenger Shawn Pinkston. Pinkston, a Daniel Island resident and Army veteran, says the city has failed to keep many of its promises to the island.
"I live on Daniel Island and work in Ansonborough, so I have a unique view of the issues affecting each community in District 1," Pinkston said in a public statement. "On Daniel Island, we have seen promises made by the city go unfulfilled ... It is time for engaged and effective leadership that will promote the interests of all communities throughout this district."
For White, the most urgent issues for District 1 are quality of life, regional traffic planning for the Clements Ferry Road/Highway 41 corridor, and building an indoor recreation center to serve the Cainhoy and Daniel Island communities.
"I am already working on all these issues, and I plan to continue my work on these issues with the new administration to ensure that the new mayor supports and makes these agendas his or her priority," says White.
The race for District 3 is the most crowded of all the City Council elections, with three candidates vying for the seat: Jimmy Bailey, Luqman Rasheed, and incumbent James Lewis Jr.
According to Lewis, managing growth in District 3 poses a special challenge for the district that includes portions of the west side of the Charleston peninsula, as well as West Ashley.
"I think that the biggest thing to cover downtown would be the growth of developers moving further up to the northern parts of the peninsula with large developments and companies coming in," says Lewis. "And I think in the next year, you're going to see a lot of growth that's going to be moving strictly to West Ashley."
Bailey says the role of City Council will become even more vital as Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. leaves office. If elected, Bailey plans to tackle the city's traffic problem by synchronizing traffic signals. He says he will also begin a serious effort to improve the city's connectivity for bike and pedestrian travel, while also strengthening public transportation through remote park-and-ride facilities.
Rasheed ran for District 3 in the previous two elections and has said he would do more to ensure his constituents remain informed on City Council's actions.
District 5 comes down to a race between incumbent Marvin Wagner and Brian Byrd. The challenger says that the most pressing issues facing his district are actually the same as those facing the entire city: transportation, growth management, and flooding.
"I will push for responsible, reasoned growth and make sure we have sufficient infrastructure to support that growth," he says. "We need to prioritize our problems, which I have done, and work diligently together to solve those problems and not create barriers, excuses, or make things harder than they have to be."
As a member of City Council, Wagner says he has been addressing the issue of growth for years and believes that limiting expansion is key to solving the area's traffic problems.
"We must finish what we started in fixing the traffic. First step is the 'pitchfork' off Maybank Highway scheduled to start in early 2016 and continue the effort to finish 526," says Wagner.
Wagner is joined by several other candidates, such as District 7 incumbent Keith Waring, who say that redevelopment in West Ashley, especially around Citadel Mall is critical to the city's future. Waring says that beautification efforts should be conducted along the main causeways in West Ashley and the area's drainage should be improved.
"We tend to patch draining problems in West Ashley," he says. "All the attention goes to downtown, but fixing drainage in West Ashley would be exponentially more affordable than doing so on the peninsula."
Waring's opponent, Joe Johnston, agrees that West Ashley has been neglected.
"The residents that I have spoken to in the older, low-income neighborhoods say they feel they have no voice and that no one cares about them," says Johnston. "Their testimony stands in stark contrast to the sing-song praise that has been published about Charleston in lofty tourist magazines like Condé Nast [Traveler]. Sometimes, it's easy to lose focus among grandiose architecture and fine dining, to forget that the people in this city — and their voices — define it."
Peter Shahid, who is challenging District 9 incumbent Aubry Alexander, says he entered the race because he believes West Ashley has been ignored by the city for too long.
"While I do not profess to have all the answers to the issues which we drastically need to tackle, I possess a vision for West Ashley that will attempt to confront those issues with a new sense of urgency and energy," Shahid says. "Those issues are economic development, traffic and transportation, recreation and other basic services, to include not just police and fire, but stormwater and planning."
Alexander says that with a new mayor entering office, it is important to have stability with City Council. With transportation as one of his main concerns, Alexander proposes that the city should not shut down a lane on the West Ashley bridge for bike traffic. Instead he calls for the city to create a bike lane on the James Island Expressway, as well as finish I-526, extend the Glenn McConnell Parkway, and improve the intersection at Wappoo Road and Savannah Highway.
Councilman William Moody, who is running against Chris Cannon, agrees that the completion of I-526 is necessary for the success of the city. According to Moody, four current members of City Council have been meeting with developers and neighborhood associations to plan West Ashley's future regarding Citadel Mall, Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, and the Dupont-Wappoo area.
"The biggest issue facing District 11 is traffic and the relief available by the completion of I-526," he says. "If I am re-elected, I hope to continue to focus on the reawaking of the West Ashley area."