This is part two of a two-part series covering the Charleston Mayoral Forum hosted by the Center for Creative Retirement on Oct. 2. This week, the candidates share their views on housing and tourism and explain why they deserve your vote. Part one, which covered flooding and public safety, is available at thedanielislandnews.com.
The candidates are Peter Shahid, Clay Middleton, Tamika Gadsden, William Cogswell, Debra J. Gammons and current city mayor, John Tecklenburg. The municipal election, including the race for mayor, will be held Tues., Nov. 7.
Questions and responses below have been edited for brevity.
What would your plan be to improve low-income senior citizens’ quality of life, gentrification, and mixed-use building hotels?
Shahid: The inventory of attainable workforce and affordable housing is getting low in the city of Charleston. One of the simple solutions to addressing this is to partner with the private sector as providing different centers to provide housing located in areas that provide public transportation and accessible grocery stores.
What plan do you support for the government of Union Pier and that surrounding area?
Middleton: Union Pier has 70 acres of the most pristine value property along the East Coast. When the port said they’re going to develop this project, I think that was a great opportunity for the city. We have accessibility whether it’s in recreation, housing, sports, you fill in the blank. When all of us have gone, those 70 acres are still going to be there. We want to make sure that those coming behind us would inherit something worth fighting for.
What are your plans to help the unhoused population in heat events such as those of the past summer?
Gadsden: We need immediate relief for folks who are currently finding refuge on the streets. We’re allocating a lot of resources to large scale development projects in a city that boasts around 19,000 hotel rooms. On a nightly average, 6,000 hotel rooms are vacant. I’m not suggesting that we house the unhoused in hotel rooms but I’m saying we have to take a look at our budget. We can’t just warehouse our homeless; we have to actually get to the root of the problem by accommodating wages across class. As the only working-class candidate here, that’s my commitment.
How many more hotels does Charleston need?
Cogswell: Joe Riley, back in the ’70s, said Charleston was a dying city. He put the economic development plan in place to bring more visitors here. Mission accomplished. Now it’s time to pay attention to you residents, the people that make Charleston special. We can continue to encourage tourism but it is not our only industry we need to focus on.
What are your plans to address the need for more affordable housing for the Charleston community?
Gammons: I will represent all of these different areas and look at affordable housing, workforce housing. As mayor I will do more than that and will form private and public relationships and partnerships and then make sure when we have buildings that are dilapidated, that the city can utilize those buildings and use those for housing.
Tecklenburg: The city of Charleston is doing more than any other jurisdiction around. We’ve invested $50 million over the last few years of partnering with private developers and nonprofits to create more affordable housing. We’re now partnering with the county because they control the property tax stream in order to provide an incentive to reduce property taxes for affordable housing just like you would for an industrial reboot.
Addressing the influx of tourism in Charleston, the candidates were asked how they plan to improve the quality of life for those who live here, not just for those who visit.
Shahid: When I launched my campaign for mayor over a year ago, I came up with this very simple slogan: Rethink Charleston. We need to look at how to improve quality of life. We welcome visitors; our charm is part of our economic sphere. But it goes back to this issue of quality of life. One of the things that we can do is we can divide this department of tourism and livability into a tourism-only department, increase our staff members that we have there, and enforce the existing tourism laws in those certain areas.
Middleton: I firmly believe that residents and tourists can coexist. There are a whole bunch of other cities that would love to have the problem that we do. If your city isn’t growing, it’s dying. Our greatest asset is our people and we have to make sure that we invest in the people of Charleston, whether it’s our parks and recreation for our youth, whether that is with our public schools, whether that is in activities for our seniors. Know that your mayor is interested in your quality of life first, not just those that are coming to our beloved community.
Gadsden: In May, Gov. McMaster was able to push through new legislation that would give this region and other high tourist or high traffic areas more discretion over their accommodations tax, meaning that we can use some of the taxation from tourism to put it toward affordable housing. We also have these amazing places not just on the peninsula, not just downtown, that could be lifted up and that would help with congestion. We also need to pour into our public transit system for more reliable, more robust public transit options.
Cogswell: I’m not in favor of shutting off the gates. I think we have a lot of incredible people and a lot of incredible businesses that are moving here and that is what Charleston is all about. But we do have a crisis when it comes to our quality of life and how we grow. Smart growth involves making sure infrastructure is in place before development happens and that has not been happening here in the region for quite some time.
Gammons: How many of you would agree that we need to put up a sign on Interstate 26 that says, ‘We’re full’? Visitors are important for us; we’re a southern city, we treat people with respect, but then when they visit, they need to leave. If they don’t, they need to be a part of this environment so that we are not displacing people. As mayor, I will work with everyone to make sure that the quality of life, your safety and protection are all important.
Tecklenburg: Most of the nice restaurants in Charleston probably wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have some tourism. Use the [tourism] money wisely where we can…Being safe is the number one priority; you can’t have a good quality of life unless we’re safe.
Shahid: One of the ways that we can Rethink Charleston is to restore the trust back to address public safety issues. I’m the candidate here who has experience on how to address public safety issues. I’ll continue to do everything I can to protect our neighborhoods in our community.
Middleton: If you expect more from City Hall and our mayor, I have something tangible to offer. We have no shortage of issues but with a shared vision, we can create a city that works for everyone so that those that are yet born know that their city has their back.
Gadsden: When doors were closed to women like me, I kicked them open. You need a leader with courage to interrogate power, courage to stand up to big development.
Cogswell: I believe very strongly that what happens in our city over the next five to 10 years is going to define the trajectory of not just the city but our region over the next hundred years. I want to bring the experience and track record I have of taking very complicated things and getting things accomplished.
Gammons: This is my home and I love it. When you love something, you’re going to work hard for it. I worked all my life for equality, diversity, and inclusion and fairness, and I will continue that as your mayor. I know what it’s like to not be seen, to be ignored as a female with brown skin and because of that, I pay attention to where I am and what I do.
Tecklenburg: I’m a positive person. Yes, we have things to work on, but I believe we can make them better. That’s what we’ll continue to do if you give me the opportunity to continue to serve.