I was asked last week by the editor of this fine alternative weekly if I was planning on writing a column endorsing a candidate for mayor of the City of Charleston. I wasn't, of course, because an endorsement means taking a positive approach to something, and we all know that I don't do positivity very well. Actually, I don't really do it at all, because there has to be some balance in the universe between all the shiny, happy, cheerful optimism and reality. I'm that counterweight, and I'm fine with that role.
Because I neither live in the city of Charleston nor do I view the electoral process as a meaningful and effective system of choosing civic leaders, I can't really write the sort of ringing endorsement you'll likely find in the pages of most local media, including this one. An endorsement typically implies some level of belief that a candidate is right for the office they seek, but it does so to an audience largely composed of people consigned to the lesser-evil model of political choices.
Not everyone subscribes to that theory of course; there are always a small percentage of people happily and completely dedicated to a candidate who will vote for their person without hesitation. These are usually the paid consultants and family of the candidates, the true believers, if you will.
This notion of an endorsement of some sort is further complicated by the fact that all the candidates are essentially running campaigns that are copied and pasted from almost any other campaign for almost any other political office in America. Education? Yes, we're for education. Jobs? Yes, everyone should have a job. Roads? Yes, roads are nice. Public transit? Absolutely, we support light rail in order to get the vote of those 200 or so people in Charleston who really love the idea even though there is no way in hell it will ever be built. Affordable housing? Sure, everyone should have a house. Gentrification? Well, yes, it's a problem and it's one that we have to deal with, especially now that most of the people being gentrified have already been forced off the peninsula.
And so it goes.
So, there's nothing left for me to do but pick apart some of the more ludicrous aspects of this campaign, and you can decide from there if there's anyone worth your vote. Here's something you might call an "anti-endorsement," brief reasons not to vote for the candidates.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis might as well have used the slogan "The Developer's Choice" in his campaign. He might as well also be a Republican for all of his talk about hating taxes and regulations. But, worse than that, are two things that stick out: his campaign raised a significant sum in donations from contributions originating at a single address, with multiple LLCs shielding the actual source of the money, but his camp essentially told the City Paper, "Get over it. It's legal, and everyone does it." On top of that, wrapping himself in the Charleston Unity Blanket after being "attacked" by Ginny Deerin positively reeks of poor taste and crass political maneuvering.
Meanwhile, Ginny Deerin suffers from coming off as a political neophyte in that tiny bit of political sniping. She either didn't research Mr. Stavrinakis' stated reason for his vote on the $400 million transportation bill, or she just couldn't find anything else to attack him on. And, when she shifted gears and tried to criticize Stavrinakis' assertion that infrastructure couldn't be built before development, she didn't exactly come out against development. She's fine with paving over whatever large tracts of green space are left around here, as long as she doesn't have to sit in traffic as a result. If that's a liberal policy, you can keep it.
Of course, while these two were fighting, John Tecklenburg was quietly whistling in the wings, waiting for one of them to succumb to their injuries. At least, that's what I assume his people were telling him to do, since he spent a good bit of this campaign not really coming out strongly on any particular issue. Mr. Tecklenburg might also have been the candidate you could call the most "mayoral," if not for the horribly misfiring "no one can pronounce my last name" commercial he ran, which made the idea of Ginny Deerin climbing into an asphalt truck seem almost wise.
Charleston's mayoral elections are non-partisan, which is great for Maurice Washington, who is sometimes a Democrat and sometimes a Republican. His website, though, leans toward moderate Republican (or centrist Democrat, take your pick) and includes a lot of talk about regulation needing to be changed to facilitate job creation, a favorite topic of Republicans everywhere, despite no one ever pointing to a single instance of a regulation hurting job creation or job growth. Oh, and according to Washington, "we must address the challenge of affordable housing for all income levels" because, apparently, rich people have trouble paying Charleston rents and mortgages.
Which is odd, because as William Dudley Gregorie reminded us — several times — Charleston is actually doing great! And we're doing great not just because of the great mayor that's been around for 40 years, but mostly because of a great City Council supporting that mayor. By the way, did he also mention that he's a city councilman? So, if you like Charleston now (which no one does, apparently, since everyone else says it's overdeveloped and doesn't have the appropriate supporting infrastructure and no one can afford housing and gentrification has ruined the culture of the peninsula), then you're going to love Mayor Gregorie. I can imagine him as a designer of the RMS Titanic, on the doomed ship as she went down, screaming, "But isn't she a beautiful ship? Isn't she?"
Last, for no reason other than someone has to be, is Toby Smith. And here's where my whole thing about being negative somehow just falls apart: I really can't find anything negative to say about Ms. Smith. Sure, I've criticized her plan to put clergy into schools, which was part of a larger plan of getting volunteers into schools. I'm not against anyone volunteering in their schools, but only as long as they don't bring in their political or religious agendas with them. Then again, my own issues with religion in the public sphere don't fly in South Carolina (and in America, to be honest). Smith's only possible negative is her relative inexperience in politics.
But, honestly, Charleston is a city with a now-40 year history of professional political rule by one single man and what has it achieved? The city still floods, still struggles with tourism, still has livability and affordability problems. The overarching feeling as the city says goodbye to the Riley years is one of people suddenly looking around and saying, "Wow, this place is kind of messed up. What have we been doing all this time? And where did all these goddamn bars come from?"
Since all the issues of this election are being discussed as if they weren't the decades-old problems that they are, maybe it would be perfectly OK to let a political newbie like Toby Smith take a shot at them.