This is it, Charleston. Sure, Marc Knapp's run for public office nine times, but the consummate not-quite politician is making one last charge for the mayor's chair.
"I don't see it (running again)," he says. "I've been out there doing this long enough. If people aren't smart enough to realize what's going on and elect someone that knows what the devil they're doing, then they don't deserve any better."
Burned by a lead contractor on a city water line job 15 years ago, Knapp took his beef to City Council, pointing out the flaws in the plan. He really hasn't left since, accumulating a better attendance record at meetings than most council members. In this campaign, Knapp isn't saying anything in particular that's different from the time before, or the time before that, or the time before that, or ... you get the picture. But he says that he's seeing renewed interest from voters.
"I've got people actually calling me and asking what they can do to help," he says. "Last time, there was nobody."
Knapp says voters are realizing what he's seen for years.
"People are starting to realize that (Joe Riley Jr.'s) administration is extremely blah," he says. "There are people that are 'yes' men and in it for the paycheck and things are not getting done. If you want to get fired and you're working for me, agree with me every time. I want people that think there might be a better mousetrap."
Knapp says the administration's blahness is evident in the deficiencies revealed after the Sofa Super Store fire that killed nine firefighters. Hose sizes, equipment, and command procedures at the scene have all been identified as department-wide concerns since the fire, as well as tap fees for businesses looking to install sprinklers. Soon after the fire, Riley called for the water system to cut the fees.
"I'm the one that got them to pull those tap and impact fees, and I'm the one that told them 15 years ago that they were screwing up when they implemented that," Knapp says. "(Business owners) get very little benefit. It's actually more of a benefit for the fire department."
As for the department's failings at the scene, Knapp says, "This was more of a leadership problem than an equipment malfunction." But firing Chief Rusty Thomas would be an admission of guilt the city can't afford, he says.
Providing more firefighters and better equipment may be a tough task for Riley's administration as budget talks begin this month, but Knapp knows exactly where he'd go to find the money: all that fluffy stuff.
"The city is doing all this feel-good stuff that is wasting our money," he says. "I'm a basics type of person. Government was only put in for one reason and that was to take care of essential services."
Those essential services include more officers on the streets, particularly in under-served areas and during off-peak hours; improved equipment for the sanitation department, including more street sweepers; and more efficient use of stormwater trucks to unclog problem drains downtown. Knapp also says ambitious city staff should be promoted from within, regardless of whether they have a college degree.
As for exactly what the "fluffy" stuff is, Knapp points to city donations to various charities along with large capital projects like the South Carolina Aquarium and Joe Riley Park and Spoleto, MOJA, and other arts festivals that are better funded by private groups. Knapp also takes issue with the city buying property and turning around to sell it to developers, like the Ansonborough property and a failed attempt to buy the Rivers Federal Building.
"Riley is buying and selling property like a developer rather than letting the market take care of itself," he says.
Knapp's faith in the market is certainly higher than the other candidates — particularly with the city's need for affordable housing.
"You cannot make housing more affordable," he says. You can subsidize rent, but the cost for a home is the cost and there's no way to change that.
"The problem is they're trying to subsidize something they can't change," he says. "You can't really buck the economics of it all."
Unfortunately for Knapp, economics is also driving the mayoral campaign. He tells supporters not to send donations, because "money is corrupting government."
But money is also paying for TV spots, radio ads, and tons of campaign signs for better funded candidates. And an off-duty shootout at El Cheapo is providing another low-key candidate with more name recognition than Knapp is likely to ever see. But, if he isn't victorious, the winner can be assured that he'll be seeing Knapp every other week in the front row.