Riley receives U.S. Conference of Mayors’ top honor

Mayor Joe Riley speaks during a prayer vigil on June 18 at Morris Brown AME Church, just blocks away from the street where a man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside Emanuel AME Church, killing nine people in what authorities are calling a hate crime.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors honored Charleston Mayor Joe Riley this week with its top award for public service.

Riley was unable to travel to the conference’s 83rd annual meeting in San Francisco to receive the award, though, as it fell in the wake of a shooting last week that killed nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church on peninsular Charleston.

The conference instead recognized Riley’s “extraordinary political tenure and unwavering commitment” through a video played during the meeting, according to a news release.

Riley called into the meeting on Monday while headed to Columbia to urge lawmakers to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds, the release said.

“I am sorry I couldn’t be with all of you today, but as mayors, we understand that our jobs call on us to respond to our community challenges and make sure our communities are safe,” Riley reportedly said during the call.

He thanked the conference for the “honor” and said he’s benefited over the years from conversations he’s had through the organization, the release said.

Riley served as the conference’s president from 1986 to 1987 and as Charleston’s mayor since 1975.

“Mayor Joe Riley’s innate political astuteness makes him one of the best politicians in our nation’s history. The years of his stewardship, 1975 to 2015 for his beloved city of Charleston were tumultuous years for our mayors and our nation. He was our guiding star through the best and the worst times,” Tom Cochran, the conference’s CEO and executive director, is quoted in the release as saying.

Riley’s current term will be his last as he has chosen not to seek re-election.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at