Charleston City Councilman Gary White of DI announces run for mayor
It’s been 11 years since Gary White stood with his family on the steps of Charleston City Hall, beside then Mayor Joe Riley, to be sworn in as a newly elected Charleston City Councilman for District 1. He is the first Daniel Island resident, and non-downtown Charleston resident, to hold the position. Fast forward to 2019, and White is making history once again – this time as the first Daniel Islander to run for mayor of Charleston. White announced his candidacy last Thursday, on a van ride to four strategic locations across the city. The launch point for the tour was in an old parking lot in West Ashley, near the intersection of Highway 61 and Sam Rittenburg. “It is with great pleasure that today I stand before you and announce my candidacy for mayor for the City of Charleston,” said White. “…I am standing here at a site that should be the gateway to West Ashley. My colleagues and I approved on council the purchase of this site several years ago*…(We) encouraged the mayor to bring forth a vision for what this site would be, with a plan of kicking off the revitalization of West Ashley. Unfortunately, as we see, we stand here today and we still don’t have that vision.” Standing beside White for his campaign launch were seven councilmembers past and present - current representatives Bill Moody of District 11, Keith Waring of District 7, Kevin Shealy of District 2, and William Dudley Gregorie of District 6; and former councilmembers Aubrey Alexander, Kathleen Wilson and Larry Shirley. Gregorie called the show of force a “no confidence vote” in the current administration. “It’s obvious that council has concerns with regard to the current leadership,” he said. “And that we’re ready to put someone in there that we know has the leadership capacity, understanding of financing, that I don’t think we have there now. I think that what you’re seeing is a call from City Council to the people – that we need to do something and do something now.” “Gary has great integrity,” added Councilmember Waring, following White’s remarks. “He’s a great family man. And he has the financial intellect that the city needs right now.” “(Gary) understands the big picture,” stated Councilmember Moody, who credited White for running the city’s budget process this past year. “He understands that we have to fix all of the city, but he’s not big on studies. He’s big on action. Getting things done.” The group moved next to James Island, where White highlighted the need for smart growth and appropriate civic planning. “Today, the future of our sea islands, Johns Island and James Island, is uncertain,” noted White, as he stood with his colleagues beneath a row of stately grand live oaks. “Rapid growth, flooding, traffic congestion all represent challenges. If left unmanaged, they will deteriorate these communities.” The van then traveled to downtown Charleston to a small park surrounding a statue of the late Master Blacksmith Philip Simmons. “In his lifetime, (Philip Simmons) created numerous pieces of art that today decorate our city,” White told those gathered. “Many of those are beautiful wrought-iron gates. But if you look closely at those gates, you’ll notice they are not designed to keep you out. They were made beautiful to invite you in. Every single one of those gates is transparent. And transparency is vital to building trust among one another.” Finally, the campaign moved to its last destination – Governors Park on Daniel Island. “I chose (this location) because it represents the leadership I have shown for this portion of District 1 in my tenure on City Council,” said White from his podium. “When I decided to run for City Council there were many things I wanted to accomplish, and over the last 12 years, I’ve worked tirelessly with my colleagues for the citizens of District 1 to accomplish those goals.” White stood steps away from the site of the city’s new Daniel Island Community Recreation Center, for which construction will soon be underway. He told those in attendance that he began working on plans for the center when his children were in elementary school (two are now in college at Clemson and one attends Philip Simmons High School). “This project represented the last item on my check list that I wanted to check off while on City Council,” explained White, who credited his fellow councilmembers for helping to bring the complex to fruition. “This project is now going to become a reality. Daniel Island is a planned community that was created by land planners and developers with great vision. As mayor, I’ll provide the vision needed to protect the charm and character of our great city.” Mayor John Tecklenburg announced last year that he is running to keep his seat for a second term. When asked to respond to comments made by White and several of his fellow councilmembers regarding the city’s current administration, Tecklenburg expressed confidence that he is leading well and effectively. “Those are awfully fine folks,” noted Tecklenburg. “But we’re not always on the same page on very important issues to our city. One of them is overdevelopment of hotels. This is the same group that pushes back every time I try to bring reasonable limits to growth.” According to Tecklenburg, he has worked hard to address issues related to zoning, development, drainage and flooding, affordable housing and traffic congestion. “I have this guiding principle of minding our community’s and our city’s quality of life and I have to look at that through that prism,” he continued. “…That’s what I look forward to doing every day. And frankly, we’re making great progress on a lot of those fronts, but (White and his supporters) just happen to have a different approach…Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was Charleston. You can’t do everything at once. You focus on what you can.” And when it comes to his “financial intellect,” Tecklenburg believes he is more than capable. Although he majored in chemistry, the mayor said he had “four years of calculus at Georgetown” and is an “excellent problem solver.” “The city has a AAA credit rating,” he added. “We’ve got the highest reserves in the city’s history. Twenty percent of our annual budget is in the form of reserves which helps maintain our AAA credit rating…I rely on our excellent staff in budget and finance, but I think I have the math skills to be able to help manage our finances. No question about it.” “I feel very gratified about what I’m doing and the work that I do,” continued Tecklenburg. “I love what I do. I get up every day happy to come and try to help the citizens of Charleston. It’s my dream job.” But at least two others, in addition to White, would also reportedly like the job. Charleston City Councilmember Harry Griffin has also announced his candidacy, along with College of Charleston graduate Will Freeman. White is hopeful his bid will be successful. “The timing has to be right to do something like this,” said the Daniel Island resident, who expects he’ll have to raise $1 million to be competitive in the race. “I’ve thought about it for a long time, but when I had so many of my colleagues on City Council approach me and ask me to run, that really started to spark the conversations deeper.” And while White has a number of weighty endorsements, the one offered up by his daughter, Regan, on the campaign trail last Thursday is perhaps the most meaningful. “I’m very proud of him,” she said, in between stops. “I think he’d make a really good mayor. He never does anything half-heartedly. Whenever he has something he wants to do, he puts his whole heart into it. He’s one of my role models. He loves what he does.” If voters agree this November, the history of the moment will not be lost on White. “It would be exciting to be the first mayor from Daniel Island,” he said.
*Editor's note: Following the publication of this article, The Daniel Island News was informed by a spokesperson for the City of Charleston that this site in West Ashley was approved for purchase in August 2017.