Bob Aubin's run for Charleston City Council began with a scene he witnessed while driving on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard: A mother and her two children were trying to cross the road in front of the St. Andrews Regional Library. Aubin stopped his car and watched as they walked to the nearest crosswalk, only to find that there was no pedestrian-crossing light. He saw that the bus stop, too, was little more than a sign in the ground. For people without cars, he noticed, important details were missing from the picture.
"I feel that the Ninth District in a lot of areas has not really addressed the needs of the people who live there, particularly the people who live in apartments," says Aubin, who faces incumbent Aubry Alexander in the race for the inner-West Ashley district that centers around the intersection of Sam Rittenberg and Highway 171. Both candidates talk about an us-versus-them mindset existing between apartment dwellers and people living in single-family houses, and both candidates claim some populist credibility in the two camps.
Aubin, a team leader at Dial America Marketing in North Charleston, moved to West Ashley from Knoxville, Tenn., in 2010. He has volunteered for the campaigns of Democratic candidates including Barack Obama, Vincent Sheheen, and James Clyburn. Previously, while living in upstate New York, he was elected chairman of North Country Democracy for America, which helps Democrats with campaign training and organization.
Alexander, a native Charlestonian who moved to West Ashley in the early 1960s, still sees himself as a political neophyte after winning the council seat in 2007. A real estate broker at Daniel Ravenel Sotheby's International Realty, he has worked as a food broker and as an account manager at Baxter Healthcare (where he developed the habit of wearing his signature bowties). He is also a member of the Old Charles Towne District Task Force, and he helped organize Stand Up West Ashley, a July 2010 brainstorming session that yielded an apartment-neighborhood partnership called the Neighborhood Collaboration.
"What you're seeing is the genesis of a complete community, and they're all starting to work toward the same goals," Alexander says. He credits the group with setting up neighborhood watches and reducing crime in the participating parts of town.
For Aubin, a top priority is making it easier for people to get to work, especially those without cars. He supports the closing of a lane on the Ashley River Bridge to create a bike path to the peninsula, and he says the city should work to create a more extensive network of bike lanes and sidewalks.
Alexander says constituents tell him all the time to push for a bike crossing over the Ashley. But when he asked the 300 recipients of his e-mail newsletter whether they supported closing a lane of traffic on the bridge, he says they were seven-to-one against it.
"I walk into a situation as a blank piece of paper," Alexander says. "Present your evidence, not anecdotal, let's talk about hard stuff, and then I have to bring it all back together and make a decision."
Both candidates recognize that City Council does not act alone. Aubin says that the council should take a stand against state government when it disagrees with the course of action. After the state decided not to take federal stimulus funds that could have gone to Charleston schools, he says, "that's something we should be outspoken about, telling the state they need to get us that money in some way if we do not take the federal funds." Aubin also says City Council could do a better job of communicating the city's needs to the State Ports Authority on the topic of cruise ships in Charleston Harbor. He says he believes the city has the authority to regulate cruise ships while they are in its harbor and that, if the city fails to find a way to enforce restrictions on the ships themselves, it should restrict traffic through terminal facilities on the city's land.
Alexander, on the other hand, says he has spent hundreds of hours researching the Union Pier controversy and believes the city absolutely does not have the authority to regulate cruise ships. When it comes to pollution from the ships, he says, "There is more poo in Charleston Harbor from washing the corners off after the carriage horses have passed ... than there is from cruise ships." He says evidence points to a property grab at the core of the cruise ship debate
Other major platform planks for Alexander include a push for an electric train system in Charleston and the creation of a climate that is less restrictive toward business and more attractive to educated young professionals.
Aubin says he would push for ordinances and initiatives that keep Charleston clean and attractive to tourists. He claims an endorsement from Marguerite Archie-Hudson, a public policy professor at the College of Charleston. Wrapping up his interview in the City Paper office, he returns to the apartment-house conflict.
"I know that Mr. Alexander has recently shown more of an interest in what's going on in the apartments, but I feel that it hasn't been enough of a focus in his time in office," Aubin says. "I feel that more could have been done in the four years that he has been in office if that was something that he was going to focus on."