In the very early days, City Paper‘s news section was sporadic, but important news stories and events were often addressed in cover stories or by columnists. What’s most striking when looking back over the past 10 years is that many issues keep cropping up. Tattooing and smoking bans are as relevant in 2007 as they were in the late ’90s. With events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, we sought to show how Charleston is affected when a building falls in New York or the wind blows in the Gulf. And local events like Hurricane Floyd and the Sofa Super Store fire showed the national reach of Charleston’s struggles.
In September 1997, the City Paper runs “Tattoo You? Not in S.C.” It’s our first story on South Carolina’s inability to appreciate “Mama” scrawled on your bicep or those lips tattooed on your ass.
As tattoo legislation makes its way through the Statehouse in April 2004, “The Last Underground Tattoo” shows the business is already alive in South Carolina, if not well.
“You can get equipment so easily now, but these kids don’t know what they’re doing,” says Roger Dunbar of California Tattoo in Savannah. “Nor do they understand sterilization, which is a major factor.”
In January 2007, the Blu Gorilla tattoo parlor opens on upper Meeting Street. After the Sofa Super Store fire, Blu Gorilla offers free tattoos for firefighters looking to memorialize their fallen brothers, with firefighters lining up for two days.
When the Shipyard Creek tributary is shut down for high levels of chromium in shellfish, the City Paper runs a cover story on what’s junking up our rivers. Nine years later, the City Paper runs another piece on citizen efforts to control pollution in the same creek. The environment is a consistent theme in the City Paper, from the bulldogs at the Coastal Conservation League to the local retiree who just wants to know that the pond behind her house will still be there tomorrow.
After being outed by his fellow Republicans and accused of using government computers to solicit sex and mishandling the case of an accused child molestor, Solicitor David Schwacke is cleared of all wrongdoing. Schwacke serves out his term but loses his reelection bid in the Republican primary.
“There’s several ways to gauge the public reaction,” Schwacke says when looking back in 2006. “First, I didn’t get reelected and it was clear the sexuality had become an issue in that. But, you know, it’s a two-county race and I won in Charleston. I just lost by more in Berkeley than I won by in Charleston.”
The City Paper runs a cover story on this new-fangled device known as the webcam. Stories follow over the years on internet porn and a variety of websites like Fark, Google, and Friendster.
The City Paper looks at Charleston’s reputation as “The Holy City.” We pull from the name again and again over the years, particularly for special issues like the Best of Charleston and a cover for our Sex Issue of a woman wearing a bustier with a cross hanging between her breasts that prompts a bomb threat at our office.
City of Charleston officials give the first indications in early 1999 that they want Charleston’s late-night life to wrap at 2 a.m. A curfew goes into effect in January 2000 for a six-month trial period at a string of centrally-located bars. Soon after, Club Trio gets a $905 citation for staying open past 2 a.m. and files for an injunction against the city. The court allows late-night bars to stay open temporarily, but Councilman Bob George warns, “If it were me, I wouldn’t go running out into the street to open a late-night bar.”
In July, the city OKs a 2 a.m. ordinance they think will stick. Bars sue when the second curfew goes into effect in January 2001.
“It’s hard enough to make a living as it is,” says Gino Calejo of Capn’ Harry’s Blue Marlin Bar and Grill.
Six months later, a Circuit Court judge finds the bar curfew unconstitutional. The S.C. Supreme Court hears the case in late 2002. Chief Justice Jean Toal can’t believe this case is coming out of Charleston. “This is so bizarre, you can’t get your head around it.” The bars lose and the ban is back by Jan. 15, 2003. They make another try in the courts, but the Supreme Court rules against bar owners’ final argument in 2004, cementing the 2 a.m. closing time.
Former Porter-Gaud and James Island teacher Eddie Fischer pleads guilty to various sex-related charges, including molesting more than 40 students. Victims call Fischer’s apologies “hollow.”
“He is sorry — sorry he got caught,” says one victim. Fischer is sentenced to 20 years in prison, but the case prompts a long line of litigation against private school Porter-Gaud, where headmasters are accused of recommending Fischer for a James Island teaching job, even though they allegedly knew of past student molestations.
In late 2000, Harold Glover, the father of one of Fischer’s victims, is awarded $105 million, a record for Charleston County. Tapes used during the trial reveal that P-G principal James Bishop Alexander, who had killed himself earlier that year, had knowingly recommended Fischer for the James Island job. The tapes come from a former student who claims to have had a relationship with Alexander. The school sees additional suits, some coming from a change made in the state law expanding victims’ability to seek damages. In 2004, 31 victims and their families settle for as much as $10 million.
The City Paper runs “Smoke ’em While You Got ’em,” reporting on the city’s new ad hoc committee to study a smoking ban.
“My goal is not to eliminate smoking,” says Councilman Duke Hagerty. “The goal is to eliminate the hazard of second-hand smoke to others.”
By 2000, talk of a ban dissolved as a compromise requiring smoke purifiers is deemed too costly
Gone in a puff of, well, smoke, the ban idea makes a comeback in March 2003, when it’s reported that Hagerty and Jeffrey Wigand, the tobacco industry insider from The Insider, were talking strategy at the City Paper‘s Best of Charleston party. “It’s 100 percent done,” Hagerty says. Um, not quite.
In June, City Council takes another crack at a smoking ban, but it’s tabled a month later. The City Paper then notes in July 2004 that an ad hoc committee formed to study a ban can’t come to an agreement.
With all the past talk, when the ban surfaces again in late 2006, there’s limited conversation on the topic before City Council overwhelmingly approves the ban that begins July 23, 2007, shoving smokers out to the street.
The City Paper tragically never covers the poor people who avoid smoking because they can’t figure out how to hold the cigarette.
With fresh memories of what Hurricane Hugo did to the Lowcountry, the panic that sets in for Floyd isn’t unexpected. As the rest of the region gets to packing, former radio host and City Paper columnist Michael Graham spends hours and hours on the radio, chronicling the exodus.
“They would have had to drag me away (from the mic),” he says. “This sort of thing is exactly the reason why I took the job.”
But the storm ends up causing little damage in Charleston, leaving many to wonder what all the fuss was about.
“The real shame is that many, many people will question evacuating in the future,” says contributor Kristen Rhodes. “Perhaps we should go back to a less ‘advanced’ method of hurricane prediction, like reading pig entrails or tea leaves.”
Speaking of stalled traffic, officials around the Lowcountry tout their dreams of a light rail system.
“The construction phase takes weeks and months,” says Howard Chapman of CARTA.
Look around, folks.
The Charleston Five
Union leaders pledge to fight the prospect of non-union workers at the Port of Charleston.
“If they think we’re going to make a little noise over a couple of vessels and then go away, they’ve got another thing coming,” says ILA president Kenneth Riley Jr.
The City Paper‘s Bill Davis offers a first-hand account of the protest that results in the arrest of five union workers henceforth known as The Charleston Five: “No matter what anyone says, watching a group change from a collection of angry men into an out-of-control mob is not exhilarating.”
A year and half later, the City Paper runs a cover story on the long wait for justice on federal riot charges. In October 2001, the court removes a year and a half curfew on the Charleston Five. They reach a plea deal weeks later, with none paying more than $400 in fines.
Residents trying to clean up the East Side find that the home of convicted drug dealer Mikell White is owned by the Charleston Police Department. White has been living in the home for seven years, but the city says it “slipped through the cracks.” He claims city Police Chief Reuben Greenberg sold him the house for $1 and that’s confirmed when the deed is found in a Charleston County evidence locker. A drawn-out battle ensues over who owns the house and how to kick White out. The city announces plans to auction the house that summer. Ironically, a failed auction is how White got the house in the first place. After the court refuses the city’s attempts to evict White, the city gets him out in January for $4,500.
WELCOME NEIGHBORS &MDASH; NOT!
In March 2000, the City Paper runs a cover story on the dark side of Charleston’s popularity.
“I wonder if our value to newcomers and long-time resident would diminish as we begin to look more like New Jersey?” wonders Bob Becker, director of the Strom Thurmond Institute.
Elliottborough residents then sound off about the loss of their community in a May 2000 story.
“People worked hard to maintain this neighborhood,” says the Rev. Sidney Davis. “They’ve raised families here and done things to help this area to grow. But when they feel like they’re no longer needed or part of the social structure, it’s like a death in the family.”
In 2003, downtown residents complain about absentee owners who are turning close-knit neighborhoods into a string of vacation homes.
“Drive-by neighbors, that’s what I call them,” says Jack Simmons, chair of the Committee to Save the City.
Flown over the statehouse since the centennial of the Civil War in 1962, the controversy over the Confederate flag leads to an August 1999 City Paper cover story, with a variety of perspectives on the need to preserve the flag or bury it. Three months later, City Council approves a referendum calling on the state to take the flag down. Coincidence? We don’t care.
In April 2000, Mayor Joe Riley leads a march from Charleston to Columbia to press the legislature to bring down the flag. At the same time, Sen. Glenn McConnnell begins laying the groundwork for a compromise that would put the flag in an arguably more prominent spot on a pole in front of the building. The NAACP continues a ban on the state, but it has little impact.
“Bringing Home the Hunley” in October 1998 looks at the history and future of the old ship, lost in the Civil War only to be found more than a century later on the ocean floor. No man has ever loved a sub like Sen. Glenn McConnell. “This ship is not a wreck,” he says. “It has essentially escaped the ravages of time. It is not a question of if it will be raised, it is a question of when.”
During a press conference in July 1999, state archaeologists report they have found one of the exhumed members of the Hunley — the bad way. During a June 23 press conference underneath the stands at The Citadel’s Johnson Hagood stadium, someone stepped on and cracked what turned out to be the first found skull.
The Hunley is raised in 2000 over fears that looters will pilfer the site. In March 2001, the Wall Street Journal has a front-page article titled, “Forget the Titanic: Everyone really wants a piece of the Hunley.” A few months later, Lt. George Dixon’s damn lucky coin is unearthed in the sub. McConnell randomly begins mumbling, “My precious.” (We kid. We kid.)
After years of fighting, famed author Clive Cussler and shipwreck junkie Lee Spence head to court in 2002 over the rights to who found the Hunley first. Spence claims he found it a good 25 years before Cussler, who Spence claims just “rediscovered” it. Fine, but if we rediscover Spence’s winning lottery ticket, we aren’t sharing either.
But forget the bones and the famous lucky coins and such. Archeologists make a startling find in 2003 — where the crew of the Hunley went pee-pee once submerged. The wooden barrel is uncovered in a forward compartment and could have been used for drinking water or the restroom. Let’s hope not both.
By 2004, the Hunley seamen are buried, but new questions arise as North Charleston is selected for the sub’s final resting place, not too terribly far from McConnell’s Civil War shop. An October cover story also asks whether McConnell is sweetening the pot for his Friends of the Hunley buddies: “So a private company exempt from public scrutiny was being overseen by a state commission that didn’t have to accept public bids for the work needed to raise and restore the Hunley.”
In 2006, The State reports that $100 million will be needed to preserve and promote the Hunley, with 85 percent expected to be paid by taxpayers.
KING STREET CRUNCH
King Street businesses start feeling the pinch of growth on the busy street.
“I saw our rent go from $3,000 to $6,000 within a year,” says Dudley’s manager Kenny Grizzard.
By 2004, the pressure has moved on to upper King as Chase Furniture announces it’s shuttering its doors: “I know we can’t have it both ways; we’ve lost customers, but our real estate value has increased.”
As one of the many national retailers who move in, Urban Outfitters promises in 2005 to preserve as much of the former Garden Theatre after the city abandons plans to preserve the building. Some still worry.
“The Garden was a viable performing space,” says historian John Coles. “You don’t just get that back.”
The City Paper asks people where they were when the towers fell. Charlestonian-turned-New-Yorker Stephen Colbert says that it’s nothing to joke about: “It was like one minute two mountains were there, but when I came out from under the overpass, one mountain was gone. When I turned the car around, the other mountain was gone.”
The tourism market sees an immediate impact as typically packed hotels report occupancy rates falling as low as 50 percent.
“It used to be you’d get three to four trips a shift each day,” says taxi driver James McFadden. “But now, guys are lucky if they can get one fare for every 12-hour shift.”
Estimates on the loss in tourism in the Charleston area reach $10 million, which means something … as long as it didn’t come from Al Parish.
JOHNSON & WALES OUT
Johnson & Wales announces it will be leaving Charleston within four years. A November cover story questions Charleston’s culinary future without the popular school.
“This was a bank we had put our money in and borrowed from to do hospitality-related business that was, at the same time, negotiating to take a valuable resource out of our city,” says Hank Holliday of Peninsula Grill.
The City Paper gets a look at the school’s new Charlotte digs in 2004: “The carrot was so big that there was nothing Joe Riley could have done to forestall the school’s exit. The place even has parking.”
A January 2005 article looks at Trident Tech’s growing culinary program.
“The closing hurts, of course … I still think about it,” says chef and Trident instructor Miles Huff. “But we have a huge opportunity to go forward with a brand new campus and a fantastic dean, so we’ll just concentrate on that and look to the future.”
But an April 2007 story notes top-tier Charleston restaurants are struggling to find qualified cooks without the Johnson & Wales talent pool.
WALK … OR ELSE
After banning bike-led tours in 2000, the city outlaws Segway scooter rentals in fear that the new-fangled technology would scare carriage horses and Strom Thurmond.
U.S. invades Iraq. Over the ensuing years, the City Paper reports on the care of veterans, local protestors, and first-hand accounts from Charleston service members. We run a cover story on the dangerous inexperience of South Carolina’s 1052nd as the soldiers learn on the battlefield. And Jason Ligon writes about his experiences as a contracted fireman in Iraq.
“It’s funny …I find myself missing the beginning days when we were barely getting by and working with next to nothing,” Ligon says in a latter piece. “I don’t know if it was the challenge or just being in a new environment with new people.”
KEEP IT COVERED
Once Marion Square gets its $4 million rehab, folks are ready to hang out … literally.
Wendell Gilliard wages an unsuccessful war to get bikini babes out of Marion Square. (Wow, this issue full of naked people is going to really tick him off).
“I know the problem, I’ve been out there,” he says.
In March 1999, the Charleston County School Board votes to let Superintendent Chip Zullinger’s contract expire when it ends in the summer of 2000, while also supporting an investigation of potential illegal actions by Zullinger. But only three months later, the board places Zullinger on paid leave and appoints former administrator Ron McWhirt on an interim basis. McWhirt left the job back in 1986 over “board interference” three years before his contract was set to expire. Uh oh is right.
By the time Maria Goodloe-Johnson is hired in August 2003, it’s referred to as a “seemingly impossible” job. Providing direction for the district endears Goodloe to residents, who balk at calls for her dismissal in late 2004 when she gets pregnant before marriage. Come 2006, Arthur Ravenel Jr. leads a slate of conservative candidates for the school board who are expected to oust Goodloe-Johnson if elected. Ravenel makes it on the board, but most of his folks don’t, securing the superintendent’s job until she takes an offer to lead Seattle Public Schools in 2007.
When told by frequent critic Ray Toler that her new job in Seattle won’t be a cakewalk, Goodloe-Johnson responds, “You prepared me well.”
City Paper reports on efforts to pull in a low-fare airline like AirTran.
“It should cost the airlines the same amount of money to fly to Savannah or Atlanta as it does Charleston,” says Bill Settlemeyer, executive publisher of Charleston Regional Business Journal. “Either they are losing money on the flights to Savannah and Atlanta or they are making way too much money in Charleston. I think it’s the latter.”
Wishes come true in 2007 when AirTran starts offering flights to Charleston.
WALK OF FAME
Local lawyer Akim Anastopoulo launches Eye for an Eye. With Kato Kaelin as a cohost, a swarm of Charlestonians are finally able to connect themselves to Kevin Bacon using only six people. Anastopoulo is only one of many Lowcountry reality TV superstars.
SPIRIT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Maritime Heritage Foundation needs $4 million to complete the tall ship project Spirit of South Carolina. Work is expected to be completed by the end of 2005. The Spirit sets sail in 2007.
Voters overwhelmingly answer the question we first posed in January 1999 under the headline, “Is there hope for free pour?” After George W. Bush’s November re-election, City Paper proudly proclaims, “We Choose to Booze.”
THE PARKING ISSUES
The City Paper looks at abuses by towing companies, including a bill of rights for those getting towed. A year later, we report that abuses are down. But problems persist and extend off the Peninsula by 2007 into Avondale and Mt. Pleasant.
THE RISE OF STEPHEN COLBERT
After first reporting on Stephen Colbert’s success in March 1999, the City Paper continues to chronicle his rise on The Daily Show and Strangers With Candy. In 2005, Colbert launches his half-hour show on Comedy Central, The Colbert Report.
Though the story notes Colbert is too busy to talk with us, “his mother did answer the phone … and said, bursting with pride, that she now has something else to brag about at her bridge club.”
ARTHUR RAVENEL’S CUZWAY
In early 2003, vibrations can be felt on upper King Street as pilings for the new Cooper River bridge are drilled into the ground. The bridge opens in 2005 as workers mourn. “It’s exciting and sad,” says steel supervisor Roy Wilson. “It’s sort of like post-partum depression.”
Reports note heavy traffic with some lanes closed and a large number of gawkers who used to be too scared to take their eyes off the road when crossing the old bridges. “Has that large battleship always been over there?”
In a disturbing prequel, City Paper runs a cover story on actors and film crew leaving Charleston for New Orleans.
“The gold mines are already being dug,” says actor Adam Miles.
Months later, the hurricane strikes the Gulf Coast.
New Orleans refugee Michael Tisserand sums it up: “The future is recited: a bowl of toxic stew. The gas, the sewage, the dead.”
Local chefs raise $184,000 in aid, but Charleston residents are frustrated at the inability to contribute in other ways.
“A lot of people don’t want to give money,” says Windjammer manager Bobby Ross. “They want to give something physical.”
With the help of local businesses and CARTA, the City Paper hosts a special Movies in Marion Square event for those from the Gulf displaced to Charleston. Others are invited to bring school supplies, clothes, and other donations.
Meanwhile, local charities brace for a fundraising dip.
“The talk all over is that donations are down,” says Barry Waldman of Trident United Way.
The City Paper runs a cover story on how prepared we are for the next big one, leading with Mayor Riley’s frustration at federal aid.
“I have something very important I want to talk about to you,” he tells a crowd. “And that’s the ineptitude of the national response to this disaster in the Gulf Coast.”
Follow-up stories show the damage and the continued effort to rebuild into 2007.
THE EAST SIDE
The city has fought the East Side drug problem for years. In 2005, the problem escalates. The City Paper runs a cover story on Adam Cote, who was shot in the head and lived to talk about it.
“Sometimes the name of a word doesn’t come to me until two days later,” he says. “It happens to everyone, but with me it just happens all the time.”
TOWN OF JAMES ISLAND
After the City of Charleston fought back James Island’s first try at incorporation, the legislature pushes through a bill in 2000 to make incorporation easier. Island voters say OK in 2002, only to have the second incorporation rebuffed by the courts in 2004. Led by Riley Fan Club president Mary Clark, a persistent foil for the mayor, the town is approved by residents again in June 2006, but Riley pledges another fight.
Remember Palmetto Pointe? Neither do we. The teen drama sinks, along with a planned Alyssa Milano vehicle set in Savannah, but filmed in Charleston. Locally filmed Army Wives takes off for Lifetime in 2007 as the network’s best-rated show ever!
BUIST OR BUST
Advocates present proof to the School District that parents are forging addresses in order to take in-demand spots reserved for Peninsula residents at the popular Buist Academy magnet school. ABC News reports on the drama as the school district promises stricter standards for address verification. Other concerns about Buist’s admission policy are ignored.
Charleston County comes back to plans to run the James Island Connector to the Mark Clark. With development already popping up on the island, residents stand up for keeping the island’s farmland rural.
“The whole problem is there’s just so many more people,” says Sidi Limehouse. “It’s been a progressive thing, kind of like a cancer, you know?”
THE GAY ISSUE
City Paper runs The Gay Issue, highlighting the constitutional amendment on the ballot that would ban gay marriage in the state constitution. Gays already can’t get married in the state, but conservatives are unsure if the law could live up to judicial scrutiny. The amendment is overwhelmingly approved statewide, but gays see small victories on the Peninsula and Folly Beach and in other pockets of Charleston County where the amendment fails.
EGG ON THEIR FACES
The monks of Mepkin Abbey are profiled in our pages back in 1998, but the real news comes years later when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launches an undercover investigation into the monks’ chicken farm.
“It strikes me as ridiculous that given the really nasty poultry operations going on around this country, PETA would focus on Mepkin Abbey,” says Coastal Conservation League Director Dana Beach.
SHARP DRESSER, BAD INVESTOR
Way back in November 1997, the City Paper quotes economic guru Al Parish for the first time for a story about the Charleston job market. We continued to go back to this fountain of “knowledge” over the years, as did many other media outlets and business leaders. So we were as embarrassed as the rest of them when more than $100 million was missing from money that investors had entrusted to Parish. The Charleston Southern University professor claims amnesia, stating that he doesn’t know why people would give him their money, because he didn’t know anything about investing.
“I’ve been doing this for some time and this is a first,” said Bill Hicks, regional trial counsel for the Securities and Exchange Commission, regarding the amnesia story.
A disturbed student goes on a rampage at the Blacksburg school, killing more than 30 people. South Carolina legislators seize the opportunity to introduce legislation that would require schools to allow guns on campus.
“We can’t be a shining city on a hill when we’re an armed camp,” says Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
The bill finds ample right-wing supporters, but fails to pass so late in the session.
SOFA SUPER STORE FIRE
A fire at the West Ashley furniture store takes the lives of nine firefighters. The worst tragedy for firefighters since 9/11 brings national attention back to Charleston. Immediate concerns about the lack of sprinkler systems arises, but other concerns crop up about the equipment used and the chain of command at the scene. State and federal investigators began investigations immediately following the fire, and the city began its own review in August, with Mayor Joe Riley vowing to learn from the blaze. The city also pledges to buy the fire site.
HOMETOWN BOY DOES COKE
After a failed 2004 attempt to replace Fritz Hollings in the U.S. Senate, Thomas Ravenel defeats long-serving State Treasurer Grady Patterson in November 2006. Unbeknownst to voters, Ravenel was already under investigation for allegedly distributing cocaine amongst his friends. One day after the sofa store fire, Ravenel is indicted on drug charges and is suspended from his job as Treasurer. After a month in rehab, Ravenel resigns from his office. Though he pleads not guilty, Ravenel apologizes for past mistakes.