In politics, it is one thing to have all the right ideas. It is another thing entirely to rally your peers behind them. Personality matters, whether in federal or local government.
The boundaries for Charleston City Council District 11 have been tweaked for this election to include much of West Ashley south of Savannah Highway as well as the northern and western edges of James Island, but the three candidates for the district are all aware of the precedent set by exiting District 11 council member Tim Mallard. Elected in 2007 to replace Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.'s longtime ally Anne Francis Bleecker, Mallard came in with guns blazing against what he saw as the city's inefficient bureaucracy, promising to "be a strong voice, not just an echo."
For four years, Mallard has butted heads with Mayor Riley, often standing alone on issues like establishing a term limit for council members, reducing late fees for business licenses, and hiring an independent attorney for the council when it was at odds with the mayor. All three of those measures failed.
"Tim has been a strong advocate for positions he feels strongly about, and he's definitely a loud voice for West Ashley and James Island," says Laura Dukes Beck, one of the current candidates. "But I think I personally approach things from a more respectful tone."
When Mallard announced in July that he would not be seeking re-election, he said he hoped his replacement on council would "speak out and speak up and not be a potted plant, push for transparency, tell the constituents where their tax dollars are being spent, and make sure that the district gets its fair share of the dollars they put in."
Andy Brack says he got into the council race in part because of "the temper tantrum that Timmy Mallard threw." At the end of an August 2010 council meeting, Mallard got into a loud, protracted argument with Clerk of Council Vanessa Turner-Maybank, prompting the council to consider a "rules of decorum" ordinance that would require politeness in the chambers.
"I did not think that was gentlemanly," Brack says. In his campaign materials, he has branded himself with a simple slogan: "Listener, Leader." Trained as a reporter, editor, and publisher, he says he knows how to listen to fellow officials, and he plans to work together toward common goals. If elected, he says he would schedule regular office hours to meet with constituents.
Brack has the most professorial demeanor among the candidates. A graduate of Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill, he has led a broad-ranging career that has included teaching at the College of Charleston, selling radio ads, reporting for the Post and Courier, acting as campaign spokesman for Sen. Fritz Hollings, consulting for politicians in Sweden and Australia, and running the news website statehousereport.com. One of his top priorities in office would be to run a performance review of city government, an idea based on his work with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
In 2003 and 2004, Brack and a team of consultants looked for ways that the State of New Mexico could improve services while saving money. The study generated a projected $469 million in savings over the following five years. Among the 140 recommendations were some simple fixes like turning off all state-owned computers at night and selling the state's used Jeeps via eBay rather than a traditional auction. In Charleston, he thinks a performance review could save up to $28 million.
He also says he wants to refocus the council's priorities on West Ashley and James Island. He says the Charleston Digital Corridor should expand westward off of the peninsula, as should the list of venues for Piccolo Spoleto events. "More people live in West Ashley and James Island than they do on the peninsula, but most people feel like most of their money is headed downtown," he says.
Brack also favors a project that has been called a connective tissue between the two parts of town: the creation of a bike lane across the Ashley River Bridge. "There are four lanes going in [to the peninsula], three lanes going out," he says. "It is as plain as the nose on your face that you could create a bike-and-hike lane out of one of those four lanes coming in." He also supports paving the West Ashley Greenway and extending it all the way to Johns Island.
On the topic of cruise ships, he says the State Ports Authority is not "being a good neighbor" by refusing to put its annual ship traffic limits in writing. He is in favor of requiring cruise ships to plug into an electrical source at the dock, and he thinks a relocation of the passenger terminal to the Columbus Street Terminal or elsewhere north of its current location would be beneficial to neighborhoods along Morrison Drive and the northern part of East Bay Street.
Laura Dukes Beck was elected to Folly Beach City Council in 2006 after a career that included work as a commercial transaction and bankruptcy lawyer, Wachovia assistant branch manager, and stay-at-home mother. By that point, she had served five years on the town's planning commission, and she was familiar with what she calls Folly's "unique cosmos" — a mix of day-trippers, staycation residents, business owners, landowners, and renters who she says care deeply about the community. In her five years on council, she helped rewrite ordinances on noise, zoning, traffic, and litter. She takes credit for helping to hire a police chief, buy two firetrucks, and rebuild part of City Hall. But more than anything, she says she learned how to reach a consensus.
"It's like your worst group project you ever had in school come to life," Beck says. Over the course of one week in August, she resigned from Folly Beach City Council and announced her candidacy in District 11. She says she moved to West Ashley to be closer to family and her children's school. Beck describes herself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal with an environmentalist bent, but she says she is independent-minded and will consider all proposals on council rather than give knee-jerk reactions.
Beck sees James Island and West Ashley as the up-and-coming parts of town, and she says the district needs City Council's support in promoting smart development of old shopping centers and making more roads accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians. One of her ideas is to install covered bike racks behind the South Windermere Shopping Center and arrange for a free CARTA route from there to downtown.
When it comes to development in her district, Beck wants to make sure that new building projects maintain an aesthetic of Charleston charm and also provide affordable housing options. When a new hotel comes to town, she says, "I wouldn't want it to be cookie-cutter, pick-it-up-from-anywhere-in-America-and-drop-it-down-here." She is a believer in SmartCode, an urban planning template that discourages strip malls and sprawl in favor of mixed-use development.
With development comes traffic, of course, and Beck says some traffic solutions are cheap and easy, like adjusting the timing on the stoplights at Albemarle and Folly roads, while others will take some money, like finishing crosswalks in the Avondale area.
On the cruise ship controversy, Beck says the city should be advocating for its citizens and not for Carnival, and she would like to see the limit on cruise ship traffic written down in a contract.
She is concerned about the city's financing plan for renovating the Gaillard Auditorium, which she says is based on a misuse of a tax increment financing (TIF) district. TIFs, she says, should be used in areas where the city hopes to clean up blight, and she says, "I don't see a whole lot of blight near the Gaillard."
Bill Moody is an accountant, and he sees Charleston from an accountant's perspective.
"I'm very familiar with governmental finance and how it's supposed to work," says Moody, who retired as a managing partner at Gamble Givens & Moody in 2009. Over the course of two decades, he has audited and managed the audits of Lowcountry cities, counties, school districts, and public service districts. "I think I've been proven right over time that development is done by the private sector," he says.
Moody's stance is that City Council has done damage to Charleston's economic climate through excessive regulations and fees. The city has one of the highest business license fees in the area, encouraging some business owners to locate to North Charleston. And while he favors the maintenance of Charleston's historical architectural character, he says some rules — including the city's notoriously low height restrictions — are pinching businesses that would otherwise like to build downtown. "There's an anti-business bias that we need to get rid of," he says.
As a board chair of Trident United Way, he says he has helped change the organization's focus from spending to results, and he hopes to bring the same paradigm shift to city government. He keeps a sign in his office that reads, "Great effort plus a good excuse does not equal results."
So far, Moody has been disappointed in the results on fixing the Crosstown Expressway, which he says is a huge problem for emergency vehicles when it floods at high tide on rainy days. This year's $12 million stimulus package that went mostly toward beautification of the roadway was the wrong first step to take, he says. "It's almost like me telling you, 'I'm going to renovate your house, and we're going to take all the doors down, the windows out, do all this kind of stuff — but we're going to start by painting your house.'" He also sees the Gaillard Auditorium renovation as an untenable investment and says ticket sales will generate less revenue than the cost of upkeep.
Moody says the city needs to finish paving the existing section of the West Ashley Greenway, but he is against the proposal to take a lane out of traffic on the Ashley River Bridge to use for bicycles. He also says bicyclists have no place riding in traffic on the bridge. "If you've got traffic over 25 miles per hour, you shouldn't even have a bike in the same lane," he says. His solution is to have a bus shuttling commuters and their bikes back and forth across the bridge during rush hour traffic. If the state ever gets around to replacing the bridge, he says that would be the time to consider a bike lane.
He expresses incredulity at the lawsuit filed by downtown residents against Carnival Cruise Lines, saying that the cruise ships are a boon to the local economy. One restaurant owner told him he sees a $4,000 increase in gross receipts every day a cruise ship is docked at Union Pier.
Moody also wants to get the fire department a higher certification, which would lower home insurance rates.
Speaking about his disposition, Moody says he is not the sort to throw around a lot of rhetoric or call someone a lot of names. He's more interested in facts.
"We're each entitled to our own opinion," he says. "We don't get our own facts."