The strange case of Leon Stavrinakis' Range Rover

Riding Dirty

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Politicians are particularly funny creatures. They may look like you and me, but they're not. In fact, I would be willing to bet they are an entirely separate species, the missing link perhaps between the noble, solitary sasquatch and a Disney Channel sacrificial pop star, our nation's yearly offering to the Old Ones of the Entertainment World, whose horrible wrath can only be appeased by that bewitching combination of stripper-pole sexuality and promise-ring virginity. 

And because they are part-beast, part-pop tart, they must be handled in the way that one would handle a temper-tantrum-throwing puppy or a barking, as-yet-un-house broken toddler — with patience and praise, the latter of which is largely unfounded but a necessary lie that must be spoken in order to bend the creature to your will.

Politicians are fragile beings who need coddling and constant care or else they're liable to injure themselves or someone else, whether through a careless, off-the-cuff remark or a too-firm handshake and/or a slobbery baby smooch, respectively. Everything must be carefully orchestrated. 

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I first heard about a silly little matter involving a cameraman for a local TV station, current Charleston mayoral candidate Leon Stavrinakis, and a Range Rover. It goes like this:

A TV news photog had been tasked with filming Leon for a story, you know pretty standard stuff.

Previously, the cameraman had followed mayoral candidate John Tecklenburg, and in the interest of getting as much footage as possible, the videographer filmed T-Burg getting out of his car. This time, the TV station employee planned to do the same thing, and so he asked, Tyler Jones, the Stavrinakis campaign's communications director, what kind of car Leon drove. The cameraman was told a Range Rover, a type of luxury SUV. Later, however, he was asked by Jones not to film Stavrinakis getting out of the Range Rover. The photog said no, he needed the footage. Jones then walked away phone in hand. When he returned, Jones announced that he was going to pick up Leon.

A short while later, Jones was back, this time with Stavrinakis in a Nissan SUV that Jones owned. At that point, the photog filmed Leon getting out of Jones' car. (Just so you know, I heard about this story secondhand and later confirmed it with the photog in question, whose name I've withheld.)

Now, before you go speculating about all the reasons why the campaign might have felt it was important for Leon to arrive in a Nissan and not a Range Rover, let me tell you that I reached out to them directly. Admittedly, I said that it was a silly question. Some time later, Jones replied,  "Agreed. This is a silly question. It's no secret Leon drives a Range Rover. In fact, he takes his three kids to school in one every morning. But I often drive him to events in my Nissan SUV and that day was no different."

While Jones didn't dispute the report, he didn't offer an explanation for the apparent vehicle switch, which at one time seemed to be very important. 

And then things got really goofy.

OK. That's overselling it. 

Let's just say I received an email from Jones I didn't expect to get.

The subject line read: "TECKLENBURG CAMPAIGN NEWSFLASH."

The body: 
TECKLENBURG CAMPAIGN NEWSFLASH:

LEON (IN RANGE ROVER!) TRAVELING DOWN HIGHWAY 7 EAST HEADED TO I-26 EAST. DESTINATION LAW OFFICE ON COOL BLOW. WHAT IS HE HIDING?

-END-

Funny stuff, right. 

Truth be told, this election could use a dose of silliness right now, especially now that this race has begun to turn nasty. In fact, I told Jones himself a few days before the election that the Stavrinakis campaign needed to lighten up because their actions in the homestretch were rather unbecoming, and by that I was referring to that horrible "Unity" press conference attacking Ginny Deerin. It was a misstep in an otherwise flawless campaign, one that was indicative of a certain prickliness on Stavrinakis' part and a win-at-all-costs approach that I personally admired but which I doubt the public appreciated. 

And if you ask me, that misstep, as well as a few others, just might have swung a few votes John Tecklenburg's way, votes that put T-Burg in the unexpected position of being Election Night's winner, although not the next mayor. The two candidates will face off in a runoff on Nov. 17.

Those blunders have continued, most notably when Leon criticized Tecklenfuzz for being a "developer," when Stavrinakis himself has received significant sums from developers.

Heck, if you ask just about anybody, they'll more than happily point out that Leon is the preferred candidate of local developers; after all, both Teck and Deerin stood firm against the Beach Co.'s current Sgt. Jasper plans. Leon, however, is for a compromise between the city, the neighborhoods, and Beach, and in this case, at least among those that are riled up about the proposed development, that means Stavrinakis is pro-Sgt. Jasper.

Of course, none of that changes the fact that it could be argued that John Tecklenburg is a developer of sorts. After all, he works for Clement, Crawford, and Thornhill, LLC, a local real estate company. The firm is part of the team behind the Midtown development, and T-Burg is one of their brokers; his focus is commercial sales and leasing. In fact, you can see the properties he's trying to sell right now on the company's site.

But does that make Tecklenburg a developer? Technically speaking, no.

Brokers broker deals; Teck is an intermediary. Brokers don't really plan high-rises and the like. His employer on the other hand does engage in development.

Of course, it's worth noting that in addition to starting the Southern Oil Co. and heading up the nonprofit organization SC Strong, one of T-Burg's biggest claims to fame is serving as the Riley administration's director of economic development, with a particular focus on Upper King, a revitalization project that has been quite successful but which was also mishandled to such a degree that we currently have a late-night moratorium in effect.

Not surprisingly, Tecklenfuzz refutes Stavrinakis' claims: “Leon stated that I was a developer and that’s not my profession. It’s just not true ... I just don’t know how far they’ll go on putting out information that isn’t true.”

When asked about Tecklenburg's denial and any hypocrisy on Stavrinakis' part, Jones replies, "Leon isn't criticizing John for being a developer. He's simply pointing out that John is trying to make himself out to be an anti-development crusader when that's how he makes a living, even acknowledging it on the bio page for the development company where he's worked for the last fifteen years."

Perhaps Jones has something there, perhaps he doesn't, but it's clear that despite Tecklenburg's opposition to the Sgt. Jasper and a proposal to bring the approval process for new hotel development in Charleston to a halt for a year so that other development can catch up, T-Burg is a still pro-development guy. After all, one of the lynchpins of his newly unveiled five-point-pledge is to push for the revitalization of West Ashley.

What does all that mean? Well, you can figure it out.

As for me, it appears that Tecklenburg's nice-guy image is working quite well while Stavrinakis' actions continue to tarnish his reputation.




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