A few things have become more clear now that we are down to the final two candidates in the 2015 Charleston mayoral race and the majority of the other local races are in the rearview mirror. The first is that it takes more than just money to win an election.
Despite raising more money than anyone else in the race to replace Joe Riley, Ginny Deerin failed to make it to the runoff, placing a distant third. The money she spent on negative advertising did have some impact, however. It arguably knocked consensus frontrunner Leon Stavrinakis from the top to a close second-place finish.
Deerin reportedly spent nearly $700,000 to be in essentially the same place Toby Smith is right now. Smith only received 278 votes in her long-shot bid to become mayor of Charleston, but she spent only an estimated $2,000 to do it. Her approximate campaign expenditure of about $2.15 per vote seems like financial wizardry compared to the Deerin campaign, which spent about $92 per vote to get to the same place.
A more important takeaway is that although negative campaigning might hurt your opponent, it does not guarantee you a path to victory. If the leading fundraiser in a race fails to place in the top two, the voters are either rejecting the candidate or the message.
By all accounts, Deerin is an amazing force in the non-profit world, doing wonders for less fortunate children through her successful WINGS for Kids program. One can safely assume that her relatively poor showing in the election was a result of her relentless negativity in attacking Stavrinakis. Being a Sullivan's Island resident probably didn't help either.
The third takeaway from the local elections is that the anti-growth sentiment is a strong one among voters, and it can determine the outcome of an election. Just as the Save Shem Creek slate of candidates rode that fervor to upset wins in Mt. Pleasant, Tecklenburg is seeking to do the same in Charleston. On Election Night, Stavrinakis commented that the voters of Charleston have a clear choice in whom they will select for mayor on Nov. 17. I couldn't agree with him more. But it is not for all of the reasons that he stated.
While Stavrinakis described Tecklenburg as a "developer," Tecklenburg has already signaled that he would be quite the opposite as mayor— he would be anti-development and anti-growth. His post-election pledge for a one-year moratorium on new hotel construction on the peninsula reveals as much and should send a chill through the spine of Charleston Metro Chamber representatives. (They have already called the moratorium a bad idea).
Anyone who knows John Tecklenburg will tell you he is genuinely one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. But Tecklenburg has gone beyond simply pandering to the anti-development crowd to endorsing their positions wholesale. The "Quality of Life" slogan he has chosen is code for a push back against the growth Riley was able to accomplish on the peninsula despite facing vocal opposition. Today, we have new hotels, cruise ship commerce, and an active bar scene on Upper King Street. To those who recoiled when a moratorium was suggested on new bars on King, such governmental overreach will only get worse under Tecklenburg.
With Stavrinakis championing the completion of I-526 as a way to relieve traffic congestion, he definitely sounds more like Riley with his approach towards local growth. The real question for voters is whether to continue down the path of growth which Joe has led us or whether to put on the brakes as Tecklenburg advocates. On Nov. 17 voters will decide which path they want to follow.