MOUNT PLEASANT — In their first and possibly biggest face off before the Nov. 5 election, those hoping to become the next mayor of South Carolina’s fourth largest municipality got only four minutes to make their case.
But the four of the five candidates who showed up tried to make the most of their brief time on stage at Moultrie Middle School.
George A. Freeman, a real estate agent who has served on several local boards, took heart from the size of the crowd, which numbered almost 200.
“There’s enough people in here to make me feel like the citizens of Mount Pleasant are concerned about who the next leader of the town will be for the next four years,” he said.
The reason the mayoral candidates got so little time — and answered no questions — was that the two-hour forum also included all candidates seeking one of four Town Council seats and the four seeking one of two seats on the town’s Waterworks Commission.
The mayoral candidates were mannerly, with only one, former Councilman Joe Bustos, taking anything resembling a jab.
“One of my opponents has said they couldn’t say ‘no’ to development,” he said. “I think rather than that, we need a balanced approach.”
The comment was similar to Bustos’ earlier print ad claiming that mayoral hopeful and town Councilwoman Linda Page once said that about development, but she has denied it.
Page, who has been called the front runner, said her family has been in Mount Pleasant since 1959, “when they started Page’s Thieves Mart. I still run that business today.”
Page emphasized her approach to leadership rather than a list of specific promises, though she vowed to work more closely with unincorporated areas within the town’s limits.
“Everything you are affected by, I am affected by. I cannot solve your problems if elected, but I will continue to be your neighbor,” she said. “I’m a hard worker. I’m a problem-solver. I’m a person who will listen to your concerns.”
The other active Town Councilman running for mayor, Ken Glasson, said he would make the town more business friendly, try to get the town’s credit rating from AA++ to AAA, broaden the town’s tax base and streamline its processes. “As mayor of Mount Pleasant, it will be my role to continue to grow our economy.”
He also said his three decades of experience in the U.S. Marine Corps and seven years on Town Council have given him the necessary leadership skills. “I’m ready to lead your town,” he said.
Freeman said if elected, he would work to create a new downtown business district near Towne Centre, and he said its success, along with Coleman Boulevard’s revitalization, could support better public transportation from the Isle of Palms Connector to Patriots Point.
Freeman said he thinks the town needs to do better incorporating transportation into its zoning and land use decisions.
Bustos, who ran for mayor four years ago, said he has the most experience, having served nine years on Town Council, and also said, “One of the things that differentiates myself from the other candidates is I don’t think the town needs a new town hall.” Spend money instead on other town infrastructure.
The only mayor hopeful who didn’t show was Carl Carroll, Jr. He runs “Crazy Carl Cab Island Taxi Shuttle” and doesn’t seem to be mounting a serious race.
All eight Town Council candidates spoke, and many emphasized the need to keep pressure on the Charleston County School District to build new schools east of the Cooper. They also emphasized the differences in their backgrounds rather than disagreeing on specific issues.
These candidates include incumbent Elton Carrier, former council members Paul Gawrych, Timm Gipe, Gary Santos and challengers Ben Bryson, Anthony Kowbeidu, Mark Smith and Joseph Wren.
The winner of the mayoral race will fill the shoes being left by Mayor Billy Swails, who changed his mind this summer about seeking a second four-year term for the part-time $24,000-a-year job.
Under his leadership, town council members have maintained a congenial, consensus-based approach to tackling the town’s top issues, such as traffic and growth. The new mayor will decide whether to maintain that style or shake things up.
If no mayoral candidate gets 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 5, the top two candidates will face off again Nov. 19. A runoff also is possible between the fourth and fifth highest vote getters in the at-large Town Council race.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.