Some Charleston voters got a call yesterday and heard the recorded voice of U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn weighing in on the Charleston mayoral race. Here's what he had to say:
Hello, this is Congressman Jim Clyburn. I've been watching the mayor's election in Charleston very closely, and I feel I need to get involved. The Tea Party crowd is causing as much trouble in Charleston as they are in Washington. They are trying to discredit President Obama, and they spent a lot of money last year trying to defeat me. This year, they are trying to defeat Joe Riley. Well, I have known and trusted Joe Riley a long time. I believe he is the best choice for the mayor of Charleston. Those Tea Party folks have a lot of money, and they are spending it. The only thing more powerful than their money is your vote, so be sure to get out the vote for Joe Riley tomorrow and get your family and friends to do the same. He's our best choice. Thank you.
Maybe he knows something the rest of us don't, because the big spenders in the anti-Riley camp have yet to reveal themselves. The members of Citizens for a Better Charleston, an anonymous group that has sent out mailers and created websites criticizing Riley, have cloaked themselves under South Carolina election laws, which do not require non-candidate political groups to disclose their contributors.
What we do know is that they have sent out mailers praising one of Riley's opponents, City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, for his fiscal responsibility, transparency, and brief association with the Reagan administration. These claims could well be Tea Party baiting, certainly, but they're not proof positive of a link. Gregorie, meanwhile, says he has had no contact with the group, and he does not come across as a Reagan conservative or right-wing rabble-rouser in interviews. As a disclaimer, the City Paper has endorsed Gregorie in today's election.
We've been looking for a connection between this race and broader Republican or Tea Party interests. So far all we've got is the fact that J. Matthew Wills, a consultant hired by the Gregorie campaign, previously worked for Tea Party rock star Tim Scott. Wills also does business development work for the Mace Group, a public relations firm that has handled some high-profile Republican campaigns. While working for Mace, Wills says he has been in contact with Desiree Watson, an independent political consultant from Columbia who was apparently involved in fundraising for Citizens for a Better Charleston — albeit with mixed success.
Sure, they know each other. But in the inbred petri dish that is South Carolina politics, it is likely that all political consultants will meet each other at some point in their careers. Wills insists that he and Watson have not been in contact about the Citizens group, and he says that the Riley campaign has been able to "perpetuate the perception" that the two are linked because of the continuing media coverage (our bad).
One wrench in the whole Riley-critics-are-undercover-Tea-Party-operatives theory: Citizens for a Better Charleston has bashed Riley for his lack of action on restricting the number and behavior of cruise ships in the harbor. Would a right-wing sleeper cell really criticize a mayor for failing to regulate an industry?
Here's an alternate conspiracy theory: Citizens for a Better Charleston is a fictitious organization created by Democrats to siphon left-leaning voters away from Gregorie and protect the most important Democrat in the state. Crazy, right? We'll see.