City Council elections provide drama to boring city elections 

Mayor Joe ... Again

Mayor Joe Riley nabbing his ninth term was hardly a surprise, but some shake-ups in the district races have introduced new edges to City Council.

The big shocker on election day was Tim Mallard's solid defeat of incumbent Anne Frances Bleecker with nearly 63 percent of the vote. Much of the attention in the race focused on the proposed redevelopment of a Savannah Highway Harris Teeter that's not even in the district. Mallard sent out early campaign literature suggesting the project was in peril because of city micro-managing, which set off a chain reaction of damage control that culminated in a hastily called press conference from the mayor's office just days before the election to announce the development plans. But Bleecker, a two-term council member, also lost the vote on James Island and Johns Island, where she has been active in city planning for unique development guidelines to curb sprawl.

Mallard mailed out campaign literature to voters that also erroneously suggested Bleecker had violated the city's parking permit program, according to a Post & Courier story, while Bleecker supporters sent out e-mails highlighting Mallard's patchy driving record including three drunk driving charges. It's hard to say how the negative campaigning impacted the vote, but it's unlikely it would tip the scales so sharply for Mallard.

Once in office, it appears that Mallard, a business realtor, will be sitting on the other side of the table from city planning staff as they try to lean on builders for more traffic calming and aesthetically pleasing buildings. Consider the fight over the West Ashley shopping center, where Bleecker and city staff were pressing for a building fronting Savannah Highway to give the area a more walkable feel. Mallard said peppering the parking lot with trees was enough of a concession from the property owner.

The change in District 11 also inserts a new foil for Mayor Riley. Although newcomers Gary White Jr. and Aubry Alexander are replacing the council members most skeptical of Riley's vision, Bleecker was a frequent supporter of the mayor. Mallard appears ready to challenge what he sees as unnecessary spending or guidelines that would deter business development.

In District 1, Daniel Island nabbed its first City Council seat, with White besting peninsula resident Ernie Long with 55 percent of the vote. Both political rookies, neither candidate wanted to paint the race as neighborhood vs. neighborhood, but it was expected that the election would turn on who brought out the most community support. It turns out the vote was more about bringing out support in general. Turnout on Daniel Island was only slightly higher than south of Broad Street, Long's stomping ground. But where Long could only muster a smattering of support on the island, White proved his message of working for the entire district reached enough voters on the peninsula and James Island to spoil Long's win in the rest of the district.

One campaign platform for White has been to prod the city on park plans and other promises to Daniel Island, and he said late last week that he would fight to make sure funding is more equitably handed out in the district to include island taxpayers.

"(White's election) is certainly going to ensure the voices of the entire district will be heard," he says.

The other new council member, Aubry Alexander, ran unopposed for Paul Tinkler's District 9 seat, but he still took the time during the campaign season to go door to door and introduce himself to constituents.

"It's important they know who's going to be representing them for the next four years," he says.

Issues in the West Ashley district include isolated concerns about sidewalks, drainage, and stoplights, but Alexander says the larger issues are crime and quality of life.

Residents of one district neighborhood have asked Alexander to look at potential changes in city ordinances regarding quality of life issues. While new neighborhoods are protected by weighty covenants, older communities feel that the city ordinances may not be tough enough. Alexander says he'll also look at whether additional officers are needed for the city's livability court that enforces those quality of life ordinances.

"It may be an enforcement issue rather than a lack of ordinances," he says.

While James Lewis, Jimmy Gallant III, and Louis Waring won reelection, Gallant has said this will be his last term and it's questionable whether Waring will take on another campaign in 2011, considering how little he campaigned during this election cycle.

Oh, yeah. And Joe Riley won his ... well, we can't even remember how many times this has been, but he's been in office for more than three decades. When you consider the average burnout on a job is five years, this man should be studied by scientists. William Dudley Gregorie, the former state chief of the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, competed well in black communities — narrowing Riley's victory to 54 percent on the peninsula — but his message of change failed to inspire the rest of the city. Omar Brown's shootout at a North Charleston gas station may have called attention to his campaign, but he pulled in less than 2 percent of the vote.

Habitual campaigner Marc Knapp, who promised during the campaign that this, his ninth failed election, would likely be his last, pulled in 877 votes, for a little more than 5 percent.

Cherish that yard sign-free drive to work while you can. Dust out that mailbox during the campaign literature drought. There are 16 presidential candidates looking for just a touch of Riley's staying power.


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