Charleston Republicans have been whispering that one of the candidates in next week’s mayoral runoff is on their team.
Now, no one says that loudly — especially the candidates — because it’s not appropriate and it's not entirely clear whether that will help or hurt in an increasingly diverse city. But some GOP-types are quietly trying to rally the troops.
Problem is, the premise is flawed. The Charleston mayor’s job is all about being a team player — just not that kind of team.
In Charleston, like most Lowcountry municipalities, elections are nonpartisan, as more should be. Parties aren’t supposed to be involved. After all, there is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up garbage, fix flooding or put out fires.
You never hear City Council debate hot-button partisan issues like immigration, abortion or the death penalty because local officials have nothing to do with such policy.
Long-time Mayor Joe Riley used to say that his job was different than that of a state legislator or a congressman, because he had to get stuff done.
He was absolutely right. And he wasn’t only talking about keeping the streets safe and the lights on.
The mayor has to be able to work with the Democratic congressman to ban drilling off the coast and the Republican governor to secure state money for downtown drainage projects.
As Gov. Henry McMaster announced he would do earlier this week, asking the Legislature to put $10 million toward the Spring-Fishburne project so it could connect to the hospital district.
Building those kinds of relationships with state and federal officials is infinitely easier when not wearing team colors.
The fact is, Mayor John Tecklenburg and Councilman Mike Seekings — the two candidates in the runoff — both have Republican and Democratic supporters and staffers.
That’s what happens when you take away facile party labels; people are forced to listen to a candidate’s positions and make up their own mind, rather than have their pick handed to them.
That’s a good thing.
Frankly, that’s the way the city works. On Charleston City Council, it’s not too hard to pick out the members with liberal and conservative leanings — but you can’t tell it from voting records.
On local issues, shifting factions cross party lines regularly, because local issues aren’t team sports. Take the Interstate 526 loop project. Never has a local issue united West Ashley Democrats and Republicans like completing that highway.
Of course, it’s also united several conservatives and liberals against it.
Decades ago, Riley led the charge to end partisan municipal elections. At the time, Republicans said it was because the GOP was on the rise and the mayor didn’t want to run with a “D” next to his name.
But such things are cyclical, and now the Democrats pretty much control Charleston County. Ultimately, Riley was right.
Is there a Democratic or Republican way to be the county auditor, register of deeds or even sheriff? No. You could even argue those shouldn’t be elected positions. Unfortunately, the parties love a good primary — and keeping score.
A mayor, particularly in a strong-mayor form of government as Charleston has, falls somewhere between county auditor and congressman. It’s a political position, but it’s also about getting stuff done.
And that is much easier to do without waving a flag.
So next week, when you vote in the runoff, don’t worry about what team a candidate might personally prefer. Tribal politics are ruining enough things in this country, don’t let it affect city operations.
Instead, listen to what the candidates have to say, look at their records, and make an informed decision.
If voters applied such standards to every election, both parties would be better for it.
But they still wouldn’t have any place in local elections.