It's not every election year that voters have the opportunity to back a specific plan that could affect hundreds of lives across the city. That's what is on the line Nov. 7 as Charleston voters will have a decision to make regarding the $20 million bond referendum to create more affordable housing. It's a much needed step toward ensuring that more of those who work in Charleston's hospitality industry, teach our children, and police our streets can actually afford to live in the city. Aside from that ever-important issue, four seats on Charleston City Council are contested, meaning that residents in James Island and West Ashley could find themselves with a new representative on council. From a few very fresh faces participating in their first campaigns to a few longtime incumbents, let's take a look at who we think should come out on top this Election Day.
Although there was a time when moratoriums were spoken of in hushed tones among the members of Charleston City Council, now they appear to be fairly in vogue, with pauses on development on James Island being extended throughout the end of the year. While Mayor John Tecklenburg's efforts to pass a moratorium in hotel development on the peninsula never got off the ground, it was reassuring to hear District 2 Councilman Rodney Williams recently say the inability to pass the moratorium was a mistake.
Facing challenger Kevin Shealy in this year's race for the District 2 seat, Williams seems less keen on punishing downtown to bring more resources to West Ashley.
"They enhance each other," Williams recently said of West Ashley and downtown. "We are one city, working on one thing — the quality of life."
And we have to agree with Williams. The councilman found himself in hot water last year after he helped arrange a meeting between the city's capital projects staff and a local construction company. Williams ultimately self-reported the incident to the state Ethics Commission and was cleared of any violations last December, but the claims of any possible wrongdoing have hounded him during this election.
Shealy has also been quick to point out that a significant amount of William's campaign contributions have come from donors outside of District 2. Williams maintains that he is proud of all the contributions that he has received during his campaign for re-election. Again, this race comes down to a candidate dead set on taking a territorial stance when it comes to representing District 2 in West Ashley versus an incumbent who is taking a more comprehensive look at governing the entire city.
Overlooking one section of the city is only going to lead to more problems that affect us all. Tecklenburg has already shifted greater focus to West Ashley, so the once very legitimate claims of neglect coming from outside the peninsula, especially West Ashley, are a little less of a sticking point in this year's election.
Out of these two candidates, Williams appears to have the best understanding that although he's elected by the people of his district, he'll be responsible for making decisions that affect the entire city.
William Dudley Gregorie
William Dudley Gregorie has always been the stickler on Charleston City Council. Going up against Amy Brennan, Gregorie might seem a little thorny, but there's a reason that he's held onto his seat on City Council since 2009. Maybe it's because Election Day is drawing near, but Gregorie has been a regular at recent meetings of the city's Short-Term Rental Task Force, Planning Commission, and other municipal bodies set to discuss issues affecting the city as a whole, as well as those in his district.
Gregorie isn't solely to blame for the incredible growth taking place on James Island or anywhere else in the city, for that matter. But he has come to the table recently with serious discussions on raising funds to address drainage and ways to better leverage the city's tourism industry to bring in more money to go toward city infrastructure projects. Gregorie has been quick to suggest collecting a head tax for cruise ships docking in Charleston Harbor. In the past, he has cited an additional tax on the cruise industry as a possible source for funding to support increased affordable housing initiatives, as well as bolstering how the city pays for drainage improvement projects. For those reasons, maybe he should hold on to the District 6 seat for another term.
Here you have this year's most competitive race, with newcomers Summer Massey and Harry Joseph Griffin looking to unseat incumbent Dean Riegel. Of course, Riegel's position on City Council is already in question after he was found to be living outside of his district.
With many of his fellow City Council members looking to discuss having a formal hearing for Riegel after the election, maybe it would be best to simply save them the trouble. And while we're considering a suitable replacement, Massey appears to have the experience and poise to handle the spotlight on City Council. Although Griffin is one of the most genuine candidates to make the scene and has a clear love for his community, at 22 years old, he just may not be quite ready to hold office.
Massey says she answered the call to run for City Council after she felt that her district was not being properly represented. Massey says she is prepared to press hard for more funding to address drainage issues in West Ashley, especially any available grants that may be able to ease the cost of flooding on residents.
As part of a civil engineering firm, Massey has worked with state and local agencies on transportation projects and believes that bike and pedestrian friendly components should be incorporated into infrastructure projects from stage one. Like Griffin, Massey wants to foster more work centers in West Ashley and provide bikeable, walkable alternatives for people commuting to work.
This focus on a more diverse connectivity for the area with be vital in years to come as West Ashley continues to grow. Massey realizes that people need transportation options that fit into their lifestyle, otherwise there is no way to address the very real traffic concerns of the community. This type of attitude will be important as the city and county both work to develop more multi-modal options around the city.
The race for District 12 has been heated to say the least. With incumbent Kathleen Wilson going up against Carol Jackson, much of the debate over who should claim the seat on City Council has centered on managing growth and development in the district. And the debate has turned sour, with Wilson hurling insults at members of the Save James Island group.
Perhaps the most symbolic loss for the island has been the death of the Carmike James Island 8 movie theater. In her defense, Wilson did make a very public stance against what the replacement of the Carmike with a new apartment complex meant for the community.
She spoke out against the new project when it went before Charleston's Design Review Board, which isn't the place you usually find a sitting City Council member. Wilson has continued this call for balance on the island, suggesting modifying the city's comprehensive plan to rein in the amount of residential zoning on the island to bring in additional retail and maintain some greenspace.
Again, it's always important when a member of City Council takes a stand on something and is willing to do so in front of the various boards and commissions that shape the decisions that will eventually make their way to council.
Local elections are scheduled for Tues. Nov. 7. While these races may not be the national or statewide campaigns that grab so much of the spotlight, municipal elections can have the greatest direct impact on the lives of voters. So please make sure you show up on Election Day and make your voice heard.