Editor’s Note: This is part one of a two-part series covering the Charleston Mayoral Forum hosted by the Center for Creative Retirement on Oct. 2. This week, the candidates introduce themselves and share their views on flooding and public safety. Next week, we’ll publish their views on housing and tourism.
Charleston’s leading mayoral candidates gathered Oct. 2 to discuss their platforms and answer questions about some of the city’s pressing issues.
The event was hosted by the Center for Creative Retirement, the College of Charleston’s center for continuing education programs for retired or semi-retired active seniors. The center’s curriculum committee co-chairs Ben and Jerri Pogue, Daniel Island residents, help put the forum together.
The forum brought together the voices of candidates Peter Shahid, Clay Middleton, Tamika Gadsden, William Cogswell, Debra J. Gammons and current city mayor, John Tecklenburg.
The forum was facilitated by Nina Sossamon-Pogue, a local author, speaker, podcaster, former tech executive and Emmy-winning former news anchor. She emphasized the importance of informed decision-making for the community’s future.
Questions and responses below have been edited for brevity.
INTRODUCTIONS: WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT THEMSELVES
Shahid: I grew up with the understanding of taking care of patrons and customers and started my journey on to this role of public service. I have been very much engaged in our community. In that capacity, I have served as a federal prosecutor here in Charleston and what that means is that I have a wealth of experience involving public safety matters. I’m the only candidate with that level of experience to address issues dealing with public safety matters.
Middleton: My pledge is very simple: we should do everything we can in my power not to leave any neighborhood community or resident behind.
Gadsden: What I love about my work as an organizer is that it forces me to listen. Not just listen to everybody but listen to folks who are most typically pushed to the margins. I don’t want to just get in here and tell you things to get your vote; I want to earn it. And I’m only going to earn it if I take into account what you have to say.
Cogswell: I’m an action guy, always have been. I’m all about less talk and more action.
Gammons: This is my calling. When I was eight, I wanted to be president of the United States of America and I wanted to be a lawyer. I had no attorneys in my family, no elected officials in my family, so I knew it had to be a calling.
Tecklenburg: My entire adult life has revolved around this beautiful city that we all love and I count my blessings every day. Do we have things to work on? Sure, and we’ll
talk about those today.
Addressing the recurring issue of flooding in Charleston, the candidates were asked if they opposed the Tidal and Inland Flooding Feasibility Project to mitigate flooding.
Shahid: I’m opposed to the wall as it’s been written right now. We have limited sources of income to address the needs of other funding problems.
Middleton: We’re in that process. We’re looking at $1.3 trillion…How do we pay for it? How is that going to affect other areas? This does not solve every day flooding. This does not solve areas that flood when I was a boy that still flood today. There are other things that we have to do throughout the city.
Gadsden: It’s grey infrastructure. I do not support the current seawall project because it only accounts for one area of Charleston. I believe in green infrastructure. There are things that we could do right now that could help relieve some of the flooding that we’re experiencing day in and day out. A mature tree can soak up to 40,000 gallons of water yearly, yet we’re in a city where we’re hacking at our trees.
Cogswell: I’m against it. Forty million is what the cost to the city would be in four years of study to figure out if we could find something that we may or may not do. We don’t have that kind of time. I’m for less studies, more action. We know where it floods. We need to address those issues aggressively now. There are creative ways to address this and I’m excited to bring my expertise and experience in doing just that to the mayor’s office.
Gammons: I oppose this plan for a seawall for many reasons. We need to put our taxpayer money where it will work for all of Charleston. Let’s look at ways like cleaning the drains and making sure we have those areas of natural areas in order to absorb the water. We are below sea level, ocean levels are rising, Mother Nature will win every time.
Tecklenburg: Where we are in the process is just to decide whether we’re going to go forward and design a [sea wall] project. Engineers approved the physical feasibility for it; it’s a good buy for the federal government to invest in this. They gave us an authorization that gives us the opportunity for $850 million federal dollars to help pay for this thing. Why would we blow it off now? We must move forward. I believe it would be irresponsible not to.
What are your plans for public safety when it comes to homelessness not just on King Street, but in the West Ashley area as well?
Shahid: We need to address the uptick in the number of homeless folks with a lot of love, passion and understanding. The city has certain programs that are available to them to bring them into a shelter or provide assistance that will help get them off the street.
Q: As mayor, what would you propose to improve the safety for pedestrians and cyclists and the safety on King Street?
Middleton: From King and Calhoun to Broad, I think there should frankly just be no cars. Where you have no cars, you can bike. If you’re driving in the vehicle, you’re not stopping to foot traffic. We think about having more walkable communities. It’s called 10 minute communities, where you have certain amenities from your home.
Q: Young citizens are the future of our city. What should be done to encourage them to take safety as part of their responsibility?
Gadsden: We have to start modeling that for them. Currently, each taxpayer pays $381 for law enforcement. We have dedicated only $1.09 to youth services. We need to invest in our communities and our kids and our children.
Q: We understand that the police and fire department have received raises that help retain them. Do we need to have more and if yes, how would they be allocated?
Cogswell: We need to enforce the basic rule of law. We need to deal with issues like King Street, where you have a number of policemen there for presence, for a show of force. They’re really not arresting anybody and that needs to change, otherwise you’re just enabling bad behavior. In terms of resources, we need to invest in our
youth, like mentorship programs, for kids that don’t have a lot of constructive things to do after school.
Q: What major efforts must we do to ensure our citizens feel secure?
Gammons: We need to bring back community policing. We need to bring back our law enforcement out in all neighborhoods all the time, not just when something bad happens.
Q: What are your plans for public safety for popular Charleston venues, such as King Street, and specifically the increase in the homelessness?
Tecklenburg: We have an agreement with SC DOT not just to address King Street, but also Meeting St., Calhoun St., and Saint John’s St., about $3 million worth of safety improvements that SC DOT is going to fund. That includes better crosswalks and intersections throughout all the streets.