GEORGETOWN — In a city where the council has almost always been majority Democrat, it only is fitting that there are five Democrats vying for only three at-large city council seats.
Because of this excess of candidates, Georgetown City Council must hold a Democrat primary election June 8.
All Georgetown City Council seats are all at-large, which means whichever three candidates, regardless of party, get the most votes in November will take the three open seats.
Because there are only two Republicans running — brief incumbent Jonathan Angner and Jimmy Morris — there is no need for the party to have a primary vote.
With the election about a month out, The Post and Courier Myrtle Beach spoke with all five Democrat primary candidates to discuss their backgrounds, ideas for the city and goals if elected.
Sheldon Butts was on city council from 2015 until 2019, when he lost by 10 votes, he said, to Al Joseph. This tight loss did not sway him, though, and he is running again to improve business and career opportunities in the city.
Those opportunities have been lacking the last decade, Butts said, and Georgetown must figure out what else it wants to be other than the quaint tourist town between Charleston and Myrtle Beach.
Butts said the city has to formulate a plan for what it wants to do with the land Liberty Steel sits on. This plan must be made through city-wide collaboration, though he said he’d like to see it be used for residential properties and leisure.
“If we were to have light cruises that come into the port of Georgetown — not the big mega cruise ships, but the light ones — or even some riverboat cruises and tie that into the leisure activities … those are things I know we can capitalize on,” Butts said.
In order to thrive, Butts said Georgetown needs to build a strong tax base. Georgetown can be another Pawleys Island or Mount Pleasant, Butts said, but it must do more to attract people to come — and stay — in the city, such as become more business friendly and invest in housing.
Tupelo Humes was first elected to council in 2018 with little political experience and not much of a partisan platform, which he said was purposeful. He wanted to be a councilman for the people, not the advancement of his own agenda, and Humes is running for reelection to continue that practice.
While on council, Humes said he is most proud of his contributions to add more housing around the city and to approve grants to alleviate flooding on the West End and Front Street. Humes considers himself a transparent, easy to reach and supportive member of council who listens to residents and more experienced councilmembers on certain issues.
“No one councilmember can get anything done without the support of others,” Humes said.
If reelected, Humes said a main focus of the council should be creating plans for Liberty Steel. A former employee of Liberty, Humes said he supports the factory either way, but that the city must have a plan for what will be used for if it is not reopened.
Humes said he would like to see the land used for various types of economic development if a closure occurs. While he suggested leisurely and light industry as possibilities, he said ultimately it is up to the people and council to work together to figure out the best course of action.
Ronald McInnis ran against current city councilman Jonathan Angner this spring. Though he lost that time, he is running again to further his advocacy for the youth of Georgetown.
McInnis is a pastor at Mount Olive AME Church in Myrtle Beach and a program coordinator with Helping Hands of Georgetown County, a nonprofit focused on youth empowerment. Though his Spring campaign generally was geared towards making Georgetown better for future generations, this election he is focusing more on creating plans for the West End and investing in housing in the city.
“The West End of Georgetown, that’s where you’ll find most of your dilapidated houses, that’s where you’ll find most of the streets with the potholes and with the sidewalks in need of repair, so having a clear vision … on how we are going to revitalize that area (is important),” McInnis said.
The city also needs to ensure that businesses it's incentivizing to come to Georgetown are able to pay employees living wages, McInnis said.
“Georgetown has grown because of the organizations that I am part of and me specifically as a career coach going out, making relationships with the industry in Georgetown and asking them what their needs were … and letting (them) know what our employees need,” McInnis said.
Lee Padgett was born and raised in Andrews, and moved to the city of Georgetown in 2009. He previously ran for council in 2015 and now works as a property manager for Waccamaw Landscaping.
In 2019, an infrastructure plan to address various drainage issues in the city was approved by council, yet he says no further action has been taken to start projects. This infuriated Padgett, he said, and his main campaign point is pushing for projects to begin.
“There are areas in the West End that suffer badly, areas in the historic districts that suffer badly and areas in Maryville (too),” Padgett said.
Padgett also said he would like the city to transition to nonpartisan council elections, as partisanship has nothing to do with when and how garbage is picked up, whether or not the water is running or how electricity fuels the city. He also said parties do nothing but keep people divided, and that his lack of subscription to either party is what sets him apart from other candidates.
If elected, Padgett said he would encourage volunteerism across the city, as well as advocate for a local option sales tax for property tax relief to encourage investment in rental properties.
Making his political debut with this campaign, 26-year-old Dennzon Winley returned to his hometown in 2020 after several years working and studying in places such as Sierra Leone and France.
While he is the youngest Democrat running for city council, Winley believes his age and fresh ideas are what sets him apart from his opponents.
“We need to break the political gridlock here, and that’s only done when you infuse younger ideas and you have younger candidates running who offer a fresher perspective on things,” Winley said.
Among his ideas is establishing plans for what he says is the inevitable closure of Liberty Steel. To avoid gentrification of the area by both public and private sectors, Winley wants to see the area transformed into a research and development hub that employs young and local professionals.
This will not only encourage young professionals to stay and live in Georgetown, Winley said, but offer those who live in Georgetown yet travel elsewhere for work an opportunity to work in the city and county in which they live in.
Overall, Winley hopes to make inclusive decisions to allow for shared community benefits if elected to city council.
“We’re going to make sure things are much more inclusive, and communities that were traditionally planted here, for decades or even centuries, are not moved for the benefit of the market,” Winley said.