Big decisions at ballot box

Jacquez Brown picks up supplies for his district Monday at the Charleston Election Warehouse in North Charleston.

BY ROBERT BEHRE and BRENDA RINDGE

rbehre@postandcourier.com brindge@postandcourier.com

Voters across the Lowcountry will go to the polls from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to choose their mayors, council members and other officials — elections that will directly impact pocketbooks and neighborhoods.

Not every city and town is holding an election, but many are, including the four largest: Charleston, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant and Summerville.

Those going to the polls can expect mild temperatures, scattered rain and few, if any, lines. Tuesday’s ballots have fewer races and ballot questions than those in a general election, and turnout for city and town elections is often lighter, too.

The biggest inconvenience may be finding a parking place around public schools that are doubling as polling places. Many schools had been scheduled to close Tuesday but changed plans and will be open to make up for days lost during last month’s flooding.

Here are five story lines to watch as the day unfolds:

In the most-watched (and most expensive) race up for grabs, six mayoral candidates harbor hopes that city voters will choose them as the next mayor of South Carolina’s second-largest city.

Mayor Joe Riley has held the office since 1975 but is not running again and has not endorsed anyone to succeed him.

Most expect there will be a Nov. 17 runoff between the top two candidates because the city’s election law requires the winner to get more than 50 percent of the vote. Almost $3 million has been raised and spent to date — a sum that’s believed to be a record for a local election in the state and one that’s ensured Lowcountry airwaves have remained blanketed with campaign ads.

The candidates in the nonpartisan race are WINGS for Kids founder Ginny Deerin, City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, Midland Park Community Ministries director Toby Smith, state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, businessman John Tecklenburg and former City Councilman Maurice Washington.

Meanwhile, city voters also will decide who will fill the city’s six odd-numbered council seats, where all incumbents face at least one challenger for another four-year term.

Voters in the city of North Charleston also will choose their municipal leaders, including a mayoral race where incumbent Keith Summey, who has held the office for 21 years, faces three challengers. The race has hinged less on city leadership than some expected in the wake of the April shooting of a black man by a white North Charleston police officer.

Instead, topics at candidate forums have included education, jobs and traffic.

Political newcomer John Singletary has made the most noise, accusing Summey of giving jobs and favors to friends and family, while the other challengers, Chris Collins and Clifford Smith, have largely avoided the fray.

Meanwhile, all 10 City Council seats also are up for grabs, and only one incumbent, Councilman Ron Brinson, has no opponent. These are single-member district races.

In addition to Brinson, seven incumbents are hoping to retain their posts. Their challengers include many community leaders who are looking to have a positive effect on the quality of life in the city.

When Summerville Mayor Bill Collins first ran for office four years ago, building a new hotel in downtown Summerville was a campaign promise.

Now plans for that hotel are at the center of this year’s election and have divided residents.

Collins is being challenged by political newcomer Wiley Johnson, who has called the hotel complex and the town’s public-private partnership with developer Applegate & Co. “one of several issues” facing the town.

The two men did not attend any of the same events during the campaign. Collins has focused more on the future of the town while Johnson questioned Collins’ performance during his tenure, including what he calls “poor leadership, failed policy, waste of taxpayer money and back-room deals for the last four years.”

Three council seats are also up for re-election, with Bob Jackson and Bill McIntosh running unopposed. Terry Jenkins faces newcomer Christine Czarnik for the District 2 race, which encompasses the historic district and North Summerville, including Weatherstone Terrace. Weatherstone residents have rallied recently over the city’s plans to build a connector road that would split the neighborhood. The city is reconsidering those plans.

Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page isn’t up for re-election Tuesday, but four of eight Town Council seats are up for grabs.

The dominant issue at recent council meetings has been growth, from specific development projects to larger zoning questions about density.

Several groups and publications have set forth different slates of candidates in the at-large, nonpartisan race, which includes three incumbents and nine challengers.

The top four vote-getters Tuesday night will be sworn in next week.

Town voters also are being asked to make a big decision about whether they want to pay more for parks and recreation.

The referendum question specifically asks if they support a property tax increase — one that would add about $80 to the annual bill on a $400,000 home — to raise money for five things, including recreation improvements, possible new senior and arts centers, and new public lands.

Supporters have said the referendum would raise $2.5 million to improve parks from Carolina Park to Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. Detractors have noted that Town Council would have wide latitude about how to spend the money.

Reach Robert Behre at (843) 937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.

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