Three candidates will face off on Feb. 3 in a special election to fill the vacant City Council seat representing District 6 — which stretches from the peninsula's West Side into some of the older West Ashley neighborhoods.
The seat came open in November with the election of Wendell Gilliard to the state House of Representatives. The winner will hold the seat until regular elections later this year.
- William Dudley Gregorie
Two vying for office are well-known in the region — Tommie Fleming Coaxum was a candidate when Gilliard first won the seat in 1997, while William Dudley Gregorie ran for mayor in 2007. The third candidate, Jeffrey K. Hill, is a newcomer to politics.
Prior to running for mayor, Gregorie served as the state director for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for eight years, capping off 32 years of government work. At HUD, Gregorie played a part in financing several local projects, including the Medical University of South Carolina's new Ashley River site and clean-up work at the Magnolia property.
In his brief retirement, he says he has focused on developing the Gregorie Institute for Social Justice, a nonprofit seeking out solutions for those struggling in the community — particularly the elderly. Gregorie was born and raised in District 6 and says the race is an opportunity that he can't pass up.
"I think my calling is in public service," he says. "It's just natural for me to try and continue that."
Though the district is a mixed community economically, socially, and racially, Gregorie says that there are some needs that are similar among its different neighborhoods.
One at the top is persistent flooding. On the West Side, this problem is decades old and will cost millions to address in areas near the Crosstown.
"As kids, we played in that water," Gregorie says of the West Side problem.
He's hopeful that federal stimulus money will be available for the work, but he says there are other neighborhoods where it just needs a little more attention from public service staff — places where ditches are simply clogged.
"There are not enough preventive measures to stop that kind of flooding problem," Gregorie says.
Other community concerns center on the need for sidewalks, more frequent trash collection, and improving safety. Gregorie also wants to complete projects like the district's bike path and begin work around Harmon Field, repairing Stoney Field and building the new city gym. He also wants to bring back tennis courts to the park and make improvements to the city pool.
"It's time for us to bring our parks into the 21st century," Gregorie says.
The city's proposal for tax and zoning incentives in the Horizon area near Fishburne Street and Lockwood Avenue is exciting because of the redevelopment and technology-based jobs it could bring to the district, Gregorie says.
"We can't depend on tourism forever," he says. "We've got to put our city in the position of being competitive."
The nearby Housing Authority community also needs to be included in any success story, Gregorie says.
"I don't think you can talk about Horizon without talking about what we are going to do about Gadsden Green and making sure that those residents can either remain or become homeowners," he says. "We need to make sure the many who are lifelong residents of the peninsula can stay on the peninsula."
It goes back to Gregorie's argument during the mayor's race that the city needs to "preserve its flavor" by ensuring affordability, particularly in the historicly black neighborhoods.
"It's these neighborhoods that make Charleston what it is," he says. "If we continue with the new urbanization without paying close attention to preserving the flavor of those neighborhoods, then Charleston will eventually become Anywhere, USA."
He also sees a larger role for the city and the council in the continued debate over school closings and education funding.
"I think it's inappropriate for council or the mayor to see what's going on with our children and not be more involved," he says. "As a council member, I will place the education agenda on the table. We can't sit around and not take a position. All the people involved, parents and children, are constituents."
Gregorie says that it's his experience working in government and his established connections with agencies that sets him apart from his competition.
"I bring a wealth of experience, with less talk and more proof," he says. "I'd like to continue to do that as a city council person."
- Jeffrey K. Hill
Hill, a data technician at Verizon Wireless and lifelong Ashleyville resident, recognizes that he doesn't have a history in politics.
"People say I don't have political experience," he says. "What political experience do I need for City Council? I need to be able to listen. And that's what I do. I listen."
He got his passion for helping others from the grandparents who raised him, Hill says. There have been times when he's seen someone struggling with yardwork or house repairs and stopped to offer assistance. He also runs websites to help with job placement and in procuring government contracts for minority- and women-owned businesses.
"This is why you should know your city councilman," he says. "There are services to help you."
Like Gregorie, Hill says that he's particularly protective of the elderly.
"District 6 is a very close-knit district," he says. "When I grew up, the people raised everybody."
Community members have been supportive of his campaign, and Hill says that their top concern is getting elected leaders to hear them.
"First of all, they want to know who they can call," he says. "Being a city councilman will give me an opportunity to reach out to these people. A lot of people are just disconnected."
Hill says that officials who say they'll address crime aren't getting to the root of the problem in these communities.
"They want money for some reason. They want to be safe in their homes. They want food, clothes, and education," he says. "We can get work programs to the neighborhood. The question is why don't we do it? It comes down to communicating and talking to the people. "
Locking up people is not the answer, Hill says. Instead of spending thousands of dollars per inmate to house them, he says the money needs to be invested in the community to help make these people productive.
Even if he loses, Hill says he's ready to work with his competitors.
"I'm honest and I've got new fresh blood," he says. "It's time for a change — real change. It's time to be human. We need to be accountable. I'm still young and I have a lot to learn and I'm excited about learning. I want to be in a position to give a whole lot to a whole lot of people."
Tommie Coaxum did not respond to requests for an interview.