Candidates get to the heart of the matter at DI News Mayoral Forum
They came with ideas for change, suggestions for tackling tough problems, and strategies for moving the City of Charleston forward. The gloves were off at the Daniel Island News Mayoral Forum on September 17 as the six candidates hoping to become the city’s next chief stated their cases before a crowd of more than 100 community members at Bishop England High School. But there were few, if any, punches.
Instead, Candidates Ginny Deerin, Leon Stavrinakis, Maurice Washington, John Tecklenburg, Toby Smith and William Dudley Gregorie were eager to showcase the issues near and dear to their hearts, the admiration they have for each other, and an undeniable compassion for the city they love.
Topics such as traffic and transportation, education, growth management, racial disparity, quality of life in city neighborhoods, raising the minimum wage, and the specific needs of the Daniel Island, Huger, and Cainhoy communities all made their way into the 90 minute conversation, led by Moderator and Daniel Island News columnist Steve Ferber. The six also shared poignant stories about their families, the people who have inspired them, and their dreams for the Charleston of the future.
“Listening to the candidates, I was struck by two things: the degree to which they care, genuinely care, about the city and its future, and the manner in which they treated each other,” said Ferber, after the program. “As the evening went on, it was clear that they deeply respected one another. Honestly, in this day and age, it was a breath of fresh air.”
This week we highlight the candidates’ general theme as well as their answers to two questions from the forum (see pages 33-34). The City of Charleston Mayoral Election will be held on November 3. To help readers decide on how they will vote, The Daniel Island News will run additional questions from the forum along with answers from the candidates in the next several editions of the paper.
What they said
Gregorie, a current City of Charleston Councilman, told the audience about his vision to create “One Charleston, a city that works for everyone.” He cited his years of experience on City Council, his time as South Carolina’s director of U.S. Housing and Urban Development, and his deep commitment to improving education as qualifications that make him worthy of the city’s top post. The candidate also proposed looking at alternative ideas such as carpooling, express lanes and hub parking to alleviate traffic concerns.
“I know how to do it,” said Gregorie, who also favors the concept of self-contained neighborhoods where residents can live, work, and play. “I know how to get the job done. I’m ready from day one… I am the one candidate who has been tested. I am the one candidate that has been part of making sure that our city continues to have a Triple A bond rating. This is no time for learning on the job.”
Stavrinakis, a member of the S.C. House of Representatives, frequently referred to his “proven record” of leadership and accomplishments, his experience as a former Charleston County Councilman and Chair, and his established relationships in the region and state as his top selling points. According to Stavrinakis, he has a comprehensive plan for Charleston that addresses the city’s top challenges.
“I’m going to be a Mayor who goes into all of our communities and makes sure that you don’t feel like we’re just coming at tax time, that we’re here to help you and honor our commitments, and make sure that the community is what you want it to be,” said Stavrinakis, who plans to conduct regular ‘Mayor’s Night Out’ events to visit his constituents if elected. “…We have great opportunities ahead of us and great challenges…and what we need now is a proven, tested leader.”
Deerin touted her “can do” attitude, an ability to get things done, and a willingness to go head-to-head with developers if necessary to provide smart growth management. The founder of WINGS for Kids, an after school program designed to help elementary children build social and emotional skills, the candidate also said she is the only contender thus far to come up with a comprehensive plan for improving traffic and transportation in the city.
“What I’m proposing is new roads, improved roads, new bridges, public transpiration, walkways, bikeways, connected neighborhoods and new ideas like ferry services,” said Deerin, who served as Mayor Joe Riley’s campaign manager in 2011. “…The naysayers will say there is no funding. But if you go to my website, point #9, is a very detailed listing of financial strategies used all over the country to do the kinds of big infrastructure projects we need. So as your Mayor, I have the vision. I think big and will get it done, with you.”
In presenting his campaign platform, businessman Maurice Washington spoke of his early years growing up in Gadsden Green, a public housing project in downtown Charleston, the eight years he served on Charleston City Council, and his experience as a member of the board of trustees for a higher education institution. If elected, Washington plans to attack challenges with a regional approach to governance. He also believes Charleston’s primary concern is education, which he sees as the cornerstone of economic development, quality of life, and livability of neighborhoods.
"My management style is from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down,” he said. “I believe the best ideas come from you, the citizens. City Hall belongs to you and I am looking forward to ensuring you feel that it is indeed your place and that you have direct ownership…We’re losing a 40 year Mayor, and we cannot believe that our greatest years and accomplishments are behind us.”
Non-profit consultant Toby Smith promised to raise the needle of racial reconciliation in our area if elected, adding that “much of what ails us” is based on this issue. She would also like to see the revitalization of West Ashley, the completion of the planned African American History Museum, and a focus on communities “on the edge…who feel they don’t matter.”
“…People love our environment (in Charleston), they love who we are, they love so many things about us and that is rooted in our original culture,” she said. “And until we deal with the underpinnings of that, which have to do with an un-level playing field, racial disparity which leads to problems in education and housing and livable wages, we are building on top of shaky ground… I don’t hear anyone talking about that.”
Businessman and political newcomer John Tecklenburg drew attention to his “boots on the ground” experience working as the director of economic development for the city in the 1990s, while serving under Mayor Riley. He explained that his vision is to make Charleston “the number one place to live” in America, while enhancing basic city services, transportation, education and affordability. If elected, he promised to conduct a performance audit of all city operations to ensure everything is running efficiently and effectively.
“We all have a great idealistic vision for the future of Charleston,” said Tecklenburg, a former Daniel Island resident who once owned a market and cafe on the island in its early days of development. “In education, none of the funding for that comes from city government. For building roads and bridges, almost no funding for that comes from your city government. I will be the guy who will take a hard look at city services and make them efficient and provide the kind of services that your city government is supposed to provide, but also work with regional leaders on those issues like housing and education.”
At the conclusion of the forum, Tecklenburg spotted a piano against a side wall in the auditorium and darted over to play a few songs for departing guests, a fitting reflection of the program’s harmonious theme.
“I thought it was well done. You juxtapose it against what we watched on television (during the Republican Presidential Debate), there was a little more niceness to this. They are well spoken and I think what they said of each other is the case - that it’s a group of intelligent, passionate, committed men and women running for an important office.” - John Read, Daniel Island “I think they did a great job!” - Rindy Ryan, Daniel Island
“I thought it was an excellent forum. I have no idea who I am going to vote for! If we could vote for all of them, we’d have the perfect city. Because every one of them dealt with a specific situation that needed to be attended to…Every one of them has his or her strengths, and obviously every one has weaknesses, and therefore it’s gonna be hard to say which person’s strengths do I believe in? A smart mayor would be whoever is elected and then appointed each one of those candidates to a different task.” - Faith White, Daniel Island
“It was very interesting and informative, and it certainly educated many residents of the island. It’s down to two for me!” - Marcia Miller, Daniel Island
“Quite by intention, we incorporated a set of unique questions to help audience members learn more about the candidates, instead of just their policies. I think the glimpse they gave us into their personal lives was quite valuable. I know that I learned a great deal about them in those segments.” - Steve Ferber, Forum Moderator