Charleston voters didn't decide who will be their next mayor Tuesday, but they narrowed it down to two.
Mayor John Tecklenburg and long-serving City Councilman Mike Seekings are poised to meet in a Nov. 19 runoff, giving both candidates a chance to restart a race where answers to questions about flooding, growth, tourism and management will come back to the forefront.
Late Tuesday, Charleston County’s Board of Elections precinct data showed Tecklenburg as the top vote-getter, but he only had about 48 percent of the vote, less than the 50 percent plus one needed for an outright win.
At their celebrations less than two miles apart, both the Tecklenburg and Seekings campaigns watched the results at parties Tuesday night, knowing the race is not over.
Tecklenburg received more than 12,000 votes — far more than the 8,957 he won in the six-way mayoral race four years ago. But that did not look to be enough. Still, Tecklenburg sounded an upbeat note late Tuesday.
"This is the third time I've offered myself for election in Charleston and for the third time, we're in first place," Tecklenburg said, as his supporters changed, "First place!"
Seekings, who took 34 percent of the vote, looked ahead.
“Tonight, more than half the residents of Charleston have spoken,” he said. "In the next two weeks, we get to think about what the future of Charleston will look like.”
Rounding out the race were former Councilman Maurice Washington (8 percent), City Councilman Gary White (7 percent), nonprofit leader Renee Orth (2 percent) and West Ashley resident Sheri Irwin (1 percent).
Charleston's months-long mayor race has included over $1.7 million raised among the six candidates, with Tecklenburg and Seekings the top money-raisers. Campaign cash has been spent on mailers, commercials, campaign staffing and reserved campaign space.
The race took a dark turn in the final weeks before the election, with mailers targeting Tecklenburg sent from a former Seekings' law partner started circulated around the city.
The normally cordial Tecklenburg took a decisive and noticeably different approach in his remarks late Tuesday. He took aim at Seekings’ City Council record, including the fact that Seekings hasn’t proposed an ordinance to address flooding, or that his campaign has been surrounded by a cloud of dark money and that he didn’t want a moratorium on development or hotels.
“After all that dark money and anonymous attacks, we’re stand as one city,” Tecklenburg said. “We can either stand together or become more divided.”
Seekings also took a shot at Tecklenburg, particularly how he handled the plan to extend Interstate 526 from West Ashley onto Johns and James islands.
"I'm the only candidate in this race who has ever voted to support 526 and when given the chance to advocate for the project, the mayor went to Columbia and proposed that the city have a bake sale to pay for it," he said. "That's the lack of leadership that led to this run-off."
White did not seek re-election to his City Council seat, which will be filled by Daniel Island Neighborhood Association President Marie Delcioppo.
Earlier in the day, volunteers with Tecklenburg's campaign were buzzing around making calls to registered voters to ensure they either cast ballots or had a way to get to the polls. More than 100 volunteers helped during the day, Tecklenburg's campaign manager Devin Gosnell said, either at campaign headquarters phone banking or at the polls.
Tuesday's turnout looked to be about 25 percent, which was slightly more than in the 2015 and 2011 mayoral elections.