If there is one prediction for Charleston's municipal elections that we feel like we can provide with some degree of certainty, it's that you will not be seeing Obama-sized lines at the ballot box on Nov. 3. There are no charismatic presidential contenders and no predestined mayoral race.
In most parts of the city, it's not even Election Day. Only four of Charleston's 12 council districts have competitive races. And the challenge for candidates in these obscure off-year elections is turnout. If a voter rolls out of bed on election day without a clear idea of who they'll vote for, they're just not going to vote.
Here's a breakdown of the candidates in each race and the issues driving their campaigns, so you know who to vote for when the alarm goes off on Nov. 3.
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Yvonne Evans: "My method of serving is one of collaboration. I work with people."
A councilwoman since 1989, Evans is the longest-serving member and says it's about essential services and preserving the quality of life.
Michael Seekings: "This election is about Charleston being fabulous going forward."
Seekings is challenging Evans, pledging that he'll get things done and expand efforts to communicate with constituents.
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Traffic: Evans has led the effort to convert several downtown streets to two-way traffic, including recent changes for Rutledge and Ashley avenues. Both candidates say they will work with city transportation staff to slow traffic through neighborhoods with landscaped medians and other improvements.
Flooding: Seekings says he's fed up with delays in flooding fixes. Evans notes it's a complicated, expensive problem that requires prioritizing the worst areas. Repairs to relieve drainage problems around the Crosstown top the list with a more than $125 million price tag. If a federal grant for that work is approved, a basin that impacts District 8 will be next. But Seekings says there's no more important issue than flooding and that he'd consider increasing the stormwater fee to expedite improvements.
Economy: The city will be tackling one of its most difficult budget years soon after election day. Evans pledges to contain costs to prevent a tax increase. Seekings says he'll look for ways to reduce fees to support existing and potential businesses.
Environment: The city has received key aid for its parks program from the nonprofit Parks Conservancy, says Evans, including the new community garden at South Windermere and a new master plan for Colonial Lake. Seekings says the city hasn't put enough work into the West Ashley Greenway, and he's critical of what he sees as a slow response from the city. "Too slow," he says. "Your government needs to react to you more quickly."
One more thing: Seekings has made term limits an issue in this campaign. Experience is an asset, but he says energy and fresh ideas are also important. "This is not a job for career politicians," he says, pledging to serve for eight years at most. Evans counters that there are already opportunities to limit a council member's term. "People go to the polling place every four years," she says. "Term limits are an artificial way of controlling elections."
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Craig McLaughlin: "We need different ideas on council."
McLaughlin's campaign is centered on personal responsibility and less government.
Kathleen Wilson: "James Island has had a good four years."
Running for a second term, Wilson points to her success in repairing frayed territorial relationships in city government and improving quality of life on the island.
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Economy: With belt-tightening assured during budget talks next month, Wilson says she has experience in wrangling a tough budget as interim executive director of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. She'd also like to make sure James Island gets its fair share of city resources. McLaughlin will approach the budget by trimming city costs and focusing on essential services, including police and fire. "Government should do a few things well, and a lot of things not at all," he says.
Individual rights: McLaughlin has said he would support a repeal of the city's smoking ban in businesses, and vows, "I won't vote to infringe our rights further." Wilson says the smoking ban, which was resolved after years of debate, is a public health issue.
Quality of life: Wilson points to her determined stance to improve recreation opportunities in the district and county. McLaughlin says he wants more pedestrian access, particularly citing the need for improvements to the Camp Road and Folly Road intersection. Wilson says she has worked with transportation officials on major renovation plans at the intersection.
Growth: Wilson fought Walmart expansion plans opposed by residents and a Johns Island development she feared would negatively impact the historic Angel Oak.
Privacy: New police video cameras in high-crime areas of the peninsula concern McLaughlin. "I'm all for safety, but at what cost?" he asks.
One more thing: McClaughlin's focus on the broader issues of rights and individual responsibilities has made for a unique campaign. And it has not gone unnoticed by his opponent. "I know where I can have the greatest impact and what issues are beyond my control," Wilson says. "I do not superimpose national problems on a municipal government."
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Blake Hallman: "I was challenged by late philanthropist Jerry Zucker to give back to the community. I took that challenge to heart."
Hallman points to his success in protecting Morris Island as an example of the consensus building and leadership he'll show on council.
Rodney Williams: "I will bring a new vision for balanced growth."
Williams has focused his attention on West Ashley's future and the promise of developments like Long Savannah.
Stephen Ziker: "I come forward as an average citizen looking to give back to the community."
Ziker sees a top priority in tempering some council infighting between interests downtown and those in suburban West Ashley.
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Traffic: All of the candidates support mixed-use communities that will provide living, shopping, and working opportunities to reduce cars on the district's main routes. Hallman also wants to consider building a parallel road or other alternatives to improve Highway 61. The candidates want more public transportation in the district — Ziker notes it's currently all but nonexistent. Williams and Hallman say that bike paths connecting neighborhoods would improve traffic.
Growth: Williams can see it on the horizon — developments that will create downtown centers in the growing West Ashley district. "West Ashley isn't overgrown," he says. "It's underdeveloped." The district is still struggling to catch up with infrastructure deficiencies, says Ziker. And, while the city has prepared for development, Hallman wants coordination to make sure surrounding county properties are on the same page. "We have to recognize the new growth will be outside of the city," Hallman says.
Economy: A particular concern for Ziker is the large vacant commercial developments anchoring the district. He's concerned there is a hidden disincentive for developers, encouraging them to leave the properties vacant. These sites are also a concern for Williams, who says he'll be an ambassador for attracting new business to the city and the district. Hallman says the city could offer reduced rent on commercial properties for small businesses in return for promises that they'll stay when the deal ends.
One more thing: All three of these candidates have stressed they'll be a voice for constituents on the council. It's a standard talking point for any election, but it's a priority in a district where sitting Councilwoman Deborah Morinelli has been absent from serving while seeking treatment for alcohol abuse after a DUI arrest this summer.
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Arthur Beane Jr.: "Drive down 61 and you'll see the signs in all the businesses that support me and back me. That's who I'm going to represent — businesses and constituents."
Beane is a retired businessman and lifelong Charlestonian relying on his deep ties in the District 10 community.
Dean Riegel: "The mayor has done a good job, but he needs a little help."
Also a business owner, Riegel wants to put his experience to work on budget oversight with new energy and enthusiasm.
Ginger Rosenberg: "I'm capping off a career of community service."
Rosenberg says her experience in private business and in the nonprofit community has given her the background to tackle City Council service.
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Economy: With business and budget experience from all three candidates, they each say they're ready to tackle the tough year with fiscal frugality. "We need to make sure we're maximizing every tax dollar," says Riegel. Rosenberg would like to review fees and consider education and training opportunities to foster small business. Beane says the city should promote small businesses to tourists, particularly those in District 10.
Traffic: All the candidates support widening main roadways in the district and installing turning lanes and traffic lights to make it easier for commuters. They're also supportive of alternative transportation. Rosenberg and Beane want to retrofit communities for more bike paths and expand CARTA opportunities in the district with more park-and-ride lots. "That will make transportation better for everybody," Beane says. Riegel agrees, but wants to analyze the cost/ benefit ratio before spending more tax dollars.
Flooding: The flooding issue in some West Ashley communities has frustrated all of the candidates. "We're spending all this money. We ought to be able to find a solution," Riegel says.
Crime: Beane harkens back to simpler times when community police meant that officers walked the beat and knew residents. "When I was growing up, I knew the policeman I could go to if I had a problem," Beane says. Riegel has focused part of his campaign on a comprehensive review of first-responder salaries, equipment, and training.
Growth: Rosenberg wants to see more regional cooperation to keep the traffic problem from getting worse, particularly in regards to the county's disposal plans. She wants to keep County Council to its word that it'll seek out alternatives to the Bees Ferry Landfill.
One more thing: Asked what concerns voters had on the campaign trail, one candidate was surprised to find it was the limited restaurant options. In another district, a candidate noted a lack of coffee shops.
For more information on Dean Riegel, Art Beane, or Blake Hallman, click on the pdf files below.
City Council Districts