Every year, there's one night when those freakish vampires get ready to suck the life out of us all — and it's usually a few days after everyone else. Yes, we're talking about politicians. After months preparing their outfits, these late Halloween revelers sneak out at all hours of the day, knocking on doors in hopes of snatching away some treats while hoping the tricks are saved for their opponents.
Unlike the looming presidential race, where the theme might as well be scaring voters (be it terrorism, immigration, health care, or Mitt Romney), mayoral and city council candidates have been selling voters on progress. Incumbents point to successes, while challengers are often promising more and better for Charleston residents.
The recurring issues for most ghouls were the peninsular flooding (even if the particular district wasn't on the peninsula) and crime. Candidates were encouraged by new Police Chief Greg Mullen and the energy he's bringing to the police force, but they want foot patrols back on the streets.
Many candidates talked about street sweeping and other quality of life issues. While two or three candidates have made the Sofa Super Store fire that killed nine firefighters a big part of their campaign, most avoided questions on the fire or deferred any reaction until "all the facts" were revealed. In some cases, it's a genuine effort to respect the lost. Others were obviously trying to avoid pointing a finger back at city officials.
While unseating a sitting councilmember is a task for only the strongest Hellraiser, two council haunts are sure to be filled by new goblins. Councilmen Henry Fishburne and Paul Tinkler (fresh off their successful fight for the smoking ban) are two undead politicians heading back to the grave. And the treat came early for Aubry Alexander, who won't face opposition for Tinkler's District 9 seat. But even if other seats change hands, it doesn't look like there'll be tremendous changes in the power structure. The only races where a governing philosophy seems to hang in the balance are the mayor's race (which isn't really much of a concern) and District 11, where Councilwoman Anne Frances Bleecker (a city planning fan) takes on Timmy Mallard (a business development fan).
So, turn off the lights and head under the covers with this trusty city election guide and a flashlight. We'll tell you what the meanest political monsters are up to and our picks for the scariest monsters we want to see haunting these halls for four more years. Bwahahahaha ... cough, cough.
Omar Brown, William Dudley Gregorie, Marc Knapp, & Mayor Joe Riley Jr.
We, too, have been wrapped up by Riley. He's hardly given us a reason to consider a replacement, and when Riley talks about a vision, passion, and energy for the city, he's got more than three decades of experience to back it up. And the mayor's hands-on approach hasn't seemed like micromanagement, but macrosuccess.
Much like any marriage, we've had some bad days with Joe, and his challengers have pounced on those like a pack of witches on the last eye of newt. Omar Brown, a city cop, ran his campaign largely on chasing out the criminal element — and famously proved his point in an off-duty gas station shoot-out with a parole violator that left a bullet hole in his thigh and ramped up his name recognition. But a recent annual review from Mullen has shown that last year's crime wave has been pushed back by the new leadership.
But it's the police department's successes that make us wonder why a change isn't needed for the fire department after deficiencies uncovered since the sofa store fire June 18. William Dudley Gregorie and Marc Knapp have been focusing on the findings from state reviews of the fire that have cited "willful" code violations and a city-commissioned department-wide review that called for about 200 changes, including more than two dozen immediate recommendations this summer dealing with firefighter safety.
The city's continued promotion of its "Class 1" insurance rating has proven hollow in establishing the department as a national model. It took weeks for the city to establish an internal review and valid criticism has been met with defensiveness. Riley's support for Rusty Thomas draws parallel to the "together-to-the-end" love-fest he had with former Police Chief Rueben Greenberg, who left office in 2005 after harassing a woman who called police because of his erratic driving.
Imagining drastic change in the fire department culture without a change in leadership may be wishful thinking. That said, Riley has been committed to reforming the department since the day after the fire and seems ready to make the Charleston Fire Department the international model we all thought it was on June 17.
With Riley staying in the mayor's chair, Brown and Knapp can return to their roles benefiting the city (as officer and troublemaker). We encourage Gregorie to put his obvious passion for improving Charleston to work in some way. He may not be the first choice, but Gregorie's work with the state branch of the Department of Housing and Urban Development can't be ignored.
Ernest Long & Gary White Jr.
It's odd to say we're voting for experience in this race, considering neither man has held public office before, but Ernie Long has put his time as president of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association and as a member of the city's Tourism Commission to good use. From cruise ship parking to rickshaw road rage, Long has been looking for trouble and not just complaining, but helping come up with solutions. His call for a wholesale review of the city's tourism ordinance is likely past due, and Long's experience suggests it's something he won't be slow to implement (he's likely already got some ideas).
That's not to say that White's campaign promises don't hold merit. Quarterly meetings with residents and a website for continued interaction are positive ways that any councilmember can engage residents in government. His recognition of the sparse public restrooms on the peninsula shouldn't be missed, either.
Neither candidate wants to make this a fight between Daniel Island and the peninsula — White's and Long's neighborhoods, respectively — but we'll suspect the votes are going to fall pretty evenly. The big question here: Whose neighborhood will turn out more voters and, equally, where will James Island residents turn?
Erika Harrison, James Lewis Jr., & Luqman Rasheed
We're not calling this one. Erika Harrison is a terrific, energetic, young candidate, but her brief (months-long) time in the district is cause for concern. We've also seen other terrific, energetic candidates on the peninsula become glorified seat warmers. But Harrison has a passion for public service, and with four more years experience with the Board of Architectural Review and working in the community, she would be an easy pick in 2011. Harrison's concern for seniors and quality of life issues for college neighbors are spot-on campaign concerns that need to be addressed.
Councilman James Lewis is a strong, opinionated voice on the council, but swaying other members to his point hasn't worked real well. While he's been joined by a few other councilmembers in calling for a less powerful mayor, we've yet to see any real push for this change. Lewis can point to years of support for affordable housing, but unfortunately, there's not a lot of successful affordable housing to point to. A home repair fund for seniors and the city's livability court that addresses quality of life issues, both encouraged by Lewis, have borne more tangible results.
Luqman Rasheed also shows he's keyed in to his community's concerns, wanting more resources for young people (like skate parks and recreational programs) to deter crime and to give them opportunities after graduation (like vocational courses on the peninsula). And his analysis of the election process may be more honest than most: "Every four years, we talk about this stuff. Rarely do we talk about lifting up those people who have fallen through the cracks."
Leroy Connor Jr. & Jimmy Gallant III
It's a slash fest between these two nice guys, but Gallant gets our support for four more years. Connor's work for the community and students on the peninsula over the years has been unending, including creating the Friends of Burke and his recent stint on the District 20 Constituent Board and its fight for equity in school resources for all peninsula students.
But what Gallant brings to the table is experience — right when it's needed. Magnolia and other large-scale redevelopment projects are on the cusp of turning dirt. Gallant has worked to include concessions for the surrounding neighborhoods that will be impacted by the developments (though Connor has argued details haven't been adequately relayed to residents). What it means is better sewers and sidewalks and roads, but Gallant is more excited about the ancillary benefits of an influx of residents: things like banks and grocery stores. With the housing boom over, these projects will likely see unknown changes as they move forward, adjusting to market needs. It's best to have someone on board who's already gotten their hands in the cauldron.
Gallant is also one of the few councilmembers who has sincerely taken some responsibility for the city's lack of oversight with the Charleston Fire Department, suggesting he'll be a leader in making sure things are fixed.
Frances Herne, Willard Sheppard, & Louis Waring If we were basing our endorsements on our interviews with the candidates, Councilman Louis Waring would be the only candidate in this race we wouldn't be able to consider, since he didn't return our calls. But, fortunately for him, we've seen him at work for the city and his district. While both of his challengers (Fran Herne and Willard Sheppard) questioned his visibility in the community, neither of his opponents doubted his work for the city. Waring keeps a watchful eye as chair of the city's Ways and Means Committee and takes particular interest in minority concerns — most recently calling, along with other black councilmembers, for more minority inclusion in city contracts.
Herne's ideas largely come from her decades of experience in the city's recreation department and rightly points to the need for more active resources in West Ashley that factor in both children and seniors. We were also impressed with her suggestion that the site of the Sofa Super Store fire be turned into a gym and community center, a better use than a either a memorial or a park would provide.
Sheppard's work as a community leader is impressive, and his requests for a few hundred dollars to support neighborhood festivals doesn't seem extreme. He's certainly not alone in his frustration at the 2 a.m. bar closing and the city's cigarette ban, but with these issues settled, it's best to look to the next hurdle, not the last one.
Anne Frances Bleecker & Timothy Mallard
The tiff between these two candidates over a West Ashley grocery store is actually a larger battle over how to approach development in the city's growing suburbs. It's that future that leads us to support Bleecker for four more years. The argument isn't whether or not Harris Teeter will come to the Coburg shopping center, but what the rest of the lot will look like. Mallard says that peppering the parking lot with trees will be enough. But Bleecker argues that a building fronting the busy highway will provide the type of successful, walkable community that Avondale has become up the street. She's also already looking to stretch this vision down Savannah Highway, turning ugly parking lots into welcoming retail centers.
Across the river, Bleecker is leading the framing of a Johns Island Development Plan that is equal parts building tool and preservation tool. The plan lays out barriers for inevitable growth and would make Johns Island a model for future neighborhood plans. While Mallard may be envisioning practical concessions for developers, Bleecker and the city planners are looking for a little more, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Disclaimer: The endorsements here were compiled by the City Paper editors and writers and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher.
Illustrated by Steve Stegelin