Charleston voters should re-elect Tecklenburg. The choice in North Charleston is not as easy. 

Choosing a Mayor

A Joe Riley-shaped hole in the Charleston mayor's office has brought a four-year power struggle in local government, as residents voice a litany of laments for a community dealing with the impact of Charleston becoming too much of a Disneyland for out-of-towners and a piggy bank for drive-by investors.

Largesse, built over 20 years on the backs of downtown residents and capitalized in the form of luxury hotels, soulless timeshares, and trust-funded apartment towers has laid siege to the city's ability to harness growth effectively by litigating away the Board of Architectural Review.

In short, forces that produced many of the scourges peppering campaign ads and Facebook grievances in the 2019 election predate the current occupant of the mayor's office. Building moratoriums and knee-jerk patchwork fixes certainly are options — and completely within the purview of Charleston City Council. But these strategies would do little to address the real problems causing community clamor.

Wholly new challenges are ahead. Charleston's mayor can serve as a proactive leader and voice for local residents. We hope to see more of that going forward than we have seen since 2015, but it's going to take teamwork with a recalcitrant council.

In his four years as mayor, John Tecklenburg has played the hand he was dealt. Taking office in the months after the race-motivated Mother Emanuel murders, Tecklenburg and council rightly (but not unanimously) voted to apologize for the city's role in the propagation of slavery in Charleston, where the impact of centuries of discrimination is felt in massive racial earning and education gaps.

click to enlarge Tecklenburg - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Tecklenburg

Tecklenburg admits he has grown "obsessed" with flooding and drainage during his time in office. That's not surprising, since the city is just getting around to confronting climate change now that owners of million-dollar downtown mansions are feeling its effects. Residents on suburban frontiers in West Ashley and on Johns Island are right to be frustrated with new building that has exacerbated flooding. In November, proposed updates to the city's stormwater manual will come before council that take into account the findings in the city-funded Dutch Dialogues study. Those guidelines are an opportunity that the city's leaders should use to set firm regulations for how local building can affect runoff going forward as more water and people flow in.

The city is also making long-needed strides in another worthy Tecklenburg priority by spending $40 million to create more affordable housing as federal tax credits expire at several large, privately owned complexes. Tecklenburg says the city is working to lock in more affordable housing units in new construction developments with no prospect of them becoming market-rate rentals.

As Charleston's first mayor since Riley in more than a generation, Tecklenburg has drawn critics, some of whom have served on city council since before he was sworn in. They seem to forget they long have owned problems of flooding and over-development that Tecklenburg inherited. Their political stonewalling and insidious desire to thwart Tecklenburg on things big and small have led to petty, unproductive council meetings, especially over the last year as political aspirations got their every-four-year fluffing. Perhaps council's intransigence, huffing, and puffing will be addressed on Nov. 5 with a suite of new members. Let's hope so.

Despite periodic roadblocks by council, Tecklenburg continues to push forward with inclusive initiatives that have energized many around town who don't live on the peninsula.

On Nov. 5, the Charleston City Paper encourages you to vote for John Tecklenburg, so he can have another four years to continue the work he started in 2015.

click to enlarge Summey - CITY OF NORTH CHARLESTON PHOTO
  • City of North Charleston photo
  • Summey

The picture isn't as clear in North Charleston, where Mayor Keith Summey has been in office since 1994, presiding over admirable growth despite the closure of the Charleston Navy Base in 1996. And while progress has been slow, we do applaud efforts to redevelop the city's Cooper River waterfront for public spaces near the city's Olde Village district in Park Circle.

But with big city growth comes big city problems. Summey has not made good on pledges to bring a grocery store to the southern part of the city — seemingly conceding the job to the gentrifying forces at work in the low-income area. While Summey did the right thing to fire former North Charleston cop Michael Slager after he killed Walter Scott in 2015 (before settling with Scott's family for $6.5 million), the city has not stepped up to audit racial bias within the police department since a federal inquiry was squashed by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump, who Summey endorsed in 2016. And even as North Charleston has struggled with gun violence for years, Summey has failed to speak out against the problems that contribute to the continued proliferation of illegal guns in the city.

Summey faces opposition from four challengers, all of whom, unfortunately, are relatively inexperienced. The Charleston City Paper cannot endorse a candidate for mayor in North Charleston.

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