Joe Riley swears this is his last rodeo.

Honest.

Before he was re-elected to a record 10th term, Riley announced that this would be his final four years as mayor of Charleston. And he’s mentioned it on occasion since then.

Funny thing is, some people don’t believe him.

“I get quizzed all the time,” says City Councilman Dean Riegel. “They say, ‘Come on, Dean, is he really going to retire?’”

And those are probably just the people who want to run for the job themselves.

The conspiracy theorists are working overtime these days, and the story goes like this: Riley has so many things in the works right now — the Gaillard Auditorium rebuild, the Crosstown drainage project, the new cruise ship terminal, the African-American museum and Interstate 526 — that he will eventually say he’s too busy to step down. And run again.

But Riley says no, he’s really going to do it.

Retire, that is.

Gaining momentum

The mayor has this presentation he gives to various groups, and it is a long recitation of all the projects the city has going. The city does a lot.

A few people have noted that this doesn’t sound like a guy who’s slowing down, and they’re right.

Guilty, Riley says.

“Whenever a mayor leaves there should be lots of things going on,” Riley says. “You are either moving forward or you’re falling back. I should leave this city with lots of things for my successor to work on.”

Some people, admittedly politicians who are eyeing the mayor’s office for themselves, predict that the port’s decision to open up Union Pier for development is going to be too enticing for Riley to leave in someone else’s hands.

It’s true the mayor has wanted that property for the city for years. Some people say he hasn’t wanted anything this bad since Charleston Place.

But Riley says he understands that some of the things he’s set in motion may not even be started by the time he leaves office in January 2016.

And he’s OK with that.

Really.

An institution

Hold an office for 40 years, which Riley will have by 2016, and it might be understandably hard to give up.

City Hall watchers believe Riley likes things done his way. And they can’t see him walking away, particularly when he knows that he could win an 11th term in his sleep.

People who want to run for mayor are convinced Riley will change his mind, and it causes them no small amount of heartburn.

But really, all this talk is as much about everyone else as Riley. He’s been in that office since a lot of locals were born. He is the face of the city. A lot of people can’t imagine Charleston without Riley as mayor, or Riley without the mayor’s office.

Riley swears that 40 years is enough, that he is prepared to retire — but he’s not going to sit back and ride out the next few years. Clearly, that’s not in his nature.

“The only way to do this job is full-court press,” he says. “It is not a job you can ease off the throttle. In slightly less than three years from now, the time will be right.”

Riley says that on his last day as mayor, he will be in the office working as usual.

Maybe by then, people will actually believe he’s retiring.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com