MOUNT PLEASANT — The town’s mayor-elect probably would be someone else if it weren’t for an outdated bridge a half century ago.
In 1959, Linda Page was 6 weeks old when her parents and older brothers were moving their mobile home south from Virginia on U.S. Highway 17.
They stopped for gas here when someone questioned whether their vehicle could make it across the old, narrow Grace Bridge.
“My dad said, infamously, ‘What bridge?’”
Unable to cross the Cooper River there, the family instead found a trailer park and settled in. They eventually made friends, opened a business, bought a house and sank roots deep into the Lowcountry’s sand and pluff mud.
“I suppose we’re gypsies in some other life,” Page said. “How lucky to get stuck in Mount Pleasant.”
Page, 54, who will be sworn in as mayor Tuesday, said she is determined to make her hometown an even better place to live and do business, starting by continuing the collegial and largely noncontroversial way the mayor and eight-member Town Council decide things.
“I think that’s the first key — to unify my council and understand their visions and give them the opportunity to serve in their highest capacity,” she said. “I want to prove myself in the next four years.”
A change of plans
Page describes her late father as a “great wheeler-dealer,” a true bargain hunter who paid only $5,000 for her first childhood home on the front beach of Sullivan’s Island. The only catch: It was a former concrete water treatment building with no windows.
“It was godforsaken,” she said. It seemed that way, at least until she stepped outside. “Literally, my front yard was the beach, the ocean and the tidal pools.”
In 1964 her family founded Page’s Thieves Market, a name her father Carl stole from an Alexandria, Va., antiques store, and one that conjured up an image of the fictional Ali Baba. The store sold old furniture, appliances and mattresses inside an unheated former lumber warehouse and sawmill on Ben Sawyer Boulevard.
The family eventually moved to a larger home in Mount Pleasant. Page went to Whitesides Elementary and Wando High School. She then left for the University of South Carolina with plans to become a lawyer, but returned home when her parents got sick. Carl and Maxine Page both died in 1981.
“It’s hard to lose your parents young,” she said, “but it makes you strong.”
Page settled in and helped grow the family business. Fifteen years ago she went to Indiana University and studied to become an auctioneer, which is now a big part of her business. Her oldest brother Mike branched out to run the Hungryneck Antique Mall, while her other brother Tony runs Page’s Okra Grill.
Her profile also would rise as she dabbled in talk radio, hosting “The Linda Page Auction and Adventure Hour” on WTMA-AM. She said she tried to be a serious journalist — the “voice of reason” compared to her brother Mike — but she jokes that her success on that front was mixed.
“I ended up talking a lot about pimento cheese,” she said.
Testing political waters
Page said women often run for office for a specific reason, to fix something or deal with some issue.
She ran for Town Council in 2009 because she was concerned about how the town’s government would fare after the resignation of longtime town administrator Mac Burdette.
“He had been there for 20 years. I love Mac Burdette. I never had any problem dealing with the town.”
She wrote herself a check for $500 and didn’t spend that much, or the single $50 unsolicited contribution she received from former Gov. James Edwards’ wife Ann. Instead, she worked on preparing a few good speeches that she would deliver to anyone who asked for them.
She still remembers when The Post and Courier called her on election night in 2009 and told her she had received the most votes of the 19 council candidates.
“I said, ‘You’re kidding me! That’s awesome!’”
“I’m very competitive,” she added. “Sometimes, I cheat at board games. I need to win. My family won’t play with me.”
In her four years on council she developed a reputation for doing her homework and having an open mind. She served on the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority and also pushed to eliminate the need to pay to park at the town’s new Waterfront Memorial Park.
“I love research. I love to study. I love learning things that are new,” she said. “I’ve learned about planning and zoning and the bid process and municipal financing and more about public transportation than I ever thought I’d know.”
Aiming for mayor
Page figured she would try to run for mayor in 2017, when Billy Swails originally was expected to step down.
So she spent part of this summer competing in an international auctioneer competition in Indianapolis, where she was judged on her poise, speed, accuracy and appearance. As part of her preparation, the businesswoman who feels most comfortable in blue jeans went online to buy two business suits, one gray and one black.
Weeks later, Swails called her and a few others to surprise them with the news that he wouldn’t seek a second term this year.
“When Billy said he wasn’t going to run, I said, ‘At least I’ve got two suits!’” Page said. “That was in the back of my mind — they’re really nice suits.”
Mark Hartley, a former Charleston County GOP chairman and College of Charleston professor, was not surprised that Page was the first to announce — or that she won by a such a large margin — 57 percent in a five-way race.
Hartley ran Swails’ 2009 campaign and helped the late Mayor Harry Hallman before that, and he conducted a poll this summer showing Swails had smooth sailing to a second term.
But that poll also measured the popularity of other potential candidates, and it showed Page had a 44 percent favorable rating, compared to only 4 percent negative.
“It’s just impossible to get numbers that high,” he said, adding that they dwarfed those of her other competitors. That poll was circulated among political insiders and was one reason many of them expected her to cruise to victory Tuesday.
Leigh Ford has worked at Page’s Thieves Market for about 10 years and has seen her boss give away items to those in need, a quiet form of philanthropy that Page didn’t mention much, if at all, on the campaign trail.
“She’s given and given,” Ford said. “I knew she’d win this election.”
Page’s triumph came even as she’s been dealing with a family crisis. On Sept. 26, when her son Andy suffered a spinal cord injury while cutting down a tree. He remains partially paralyzed and is being cared for at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center hospital.
Hartley, who had known Page for years because of his interest in auctions, said another key to Page’s success was how she brings people together. For instance, Mount Pleasant lawyer and transit advocate William Hamilton, who has a reputation as one of the Lowcountry’s most liberal figures, worked with Hartley, a former county Republican chairman, to get Page elected.
“We’ve never been on the same team, and all of a sudden we were on the same team,” Hartley said. “You had folks from everybody under the sun helping her.”
Page said her election victory was a sign that Mount Pleasant voters are pleased with their town, and an exit poll seemed to back her up.
Asked about the town’s quality of life on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, those polled Tuesday ranked the town at 8.8. They also were more satisfied with their town’s government than with their county, state or federal governments.
The exit poll, done by students from the University School of the Lowcountry in Mount Pleasant, accurately predicted the town’s election results within just a few percentage points.
“We knew at the beginning of the race that the majority of the people who live here are happy,” Page said. “We have such a great quality of life and a wonderful community. ... I think the people who came out today to vote for me want it to be even greater.”
And that survey also showed seven of 10 town voters would like to see Mount Pleasant’s mayor be a full-time job, like in Charleston and North Charleston. If Columbia voters also decide to switch to a strong-mayor form of government next month, that would leave Mount Pleasant as South Carolina’s largest municipality without that form.
Page called Eric DeMoura “the best town administrator in the state of South Carolina,” yet she said she would favor asking town voters in 2015 if they want to change to a strong-mayor form of government.
“That’s a voter issue, not mine,” she said. “It will become a conversation with the new council, not myself. I like the form of government we have now. We’ll see.”
Swails said Page will succeed because she’s well prepared, well read and works hard.
“She’s just a good person. She works hard and she has a big heart. I think everybody loves her to death,” he said. “Her opponents probably don’t love her — she beat them that bad.”
As she wandered her shop this week, past the ornate font, marble-top dresser, Persian rug and wine bottles with candles in them, several well-wishers congratulated her on her win Tuesday. A few ribbed her about appearing on CNN or her next run for office.
“I’m not going to D.C. yet,” she joked back. “Let me get to the mayor’s office first.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
Linda Page received hugs and congratulations on Wednesday from Linda and Gene West on her election win. Page, owner of Page’s Thieves Market, will be sworn in Tuesday as the mayor of Mount Pleasant.×
Linda Page, owner of Mount Pleasant's Page's Thieves Market will be sworn in next week at the Mayor of Mount Pleasant. Grace Beahm/Staff×
One week before her election, Linda Page poses at a Charleston Moves event with Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails. Robert Behre/Staff×