Friends and foes: The men and women who helped shape Joe Riley’s mystique

The late Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, left, with his wife Sara and Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. during the Police Department’s annual dress inspection in the City Gym in 1998.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley didn’t run the city for 40 years in a vacuum.

His accomplishments were aided by city voters, taxpayers and staff, but several key people in City Hall helped him along the way, advising and encouraging him — or trying to slow him down.

Here is a look at a few of the figures who came and went over his four decades in office, and how they worked with — or against — the mayor.

Former Charleston police chief

Riley simply called Reuben Greenberg “the best decision I ever made.”

The mayor hired Greenberg in 1982 to take the reins of a city police department struggling to reduce crime, and he was almost exactly the opposite of your stereotypical Southern cop.

He was African-American, for starters — the city’s first and only black police chief. He was Jewish. He would listen to the department’s scanner and unexpectedly appear at crime scenes. Oh, and he roller-skated and would dress up as a leprechaun or Santa Claus during that time of year.

And the crime numbers steadily dropped, earning Greenberg national media attention and job offers from other cities. But he would stay in Charleston for 23 years, write a book, “Take Back the Streets,” and retire only after health issues forced his hand.

He died last year at age 71.

At his funeral, Riley recalled how Greenberg dealt with the Ku Klux Klan in Charleston. The city could not deny the group a permit, but Greenberg suggested giving them a permit to march at 2 p.m. one August Sunday — when the heat would be awful.

“Reuben told them he would lead their march, to keep them safe,” Riley said. “This is what you had; a brilliant, black, Jewish police chief leading a Klan march. ... Reuben Greenberg, in that quiet, graceful way, had defeated the Klan, and they never came back.”

Former city attorney

Regan served as corporation counsel, Riley’s chief legal adviser, from the mayor’s first election in 1975 until his retirement in 2003.

Regan helped Riley build Charleston Place, Waterfront Park and the S.C. Aquarium. He helped annex Daniel Island and large swaths of the city’s western suburbs. And he helped win a case that allowed the city to collect a new fee from local restaurants, easing the city’s need for property taxes.

Regan, who later married fellow city attorney Frances Cantwell, shared the mayor’s Irish heritage and sense of humor.

When Regan died in 2011 at age 75, then State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal said Regan “was the quintessential professional for local government law.”

Riley has said Regan’s hand was involved in every important initiative, and after Regan’s passing, the mayor and City Council renamed 50 Broad St. — the former bank that now houses the city’s legal department — in Regan’s honor.

Former North Charleston mayor

Bourne was the first mayor of North Charleston, which incorporated just three years before Riley became mayor, and Bourne was the leading voice for the North Area as it emerged from Charleston’s shadow. He served until 1991.

Just as Bourne was starting his last year in office, Charleston annexed Daniel Island — a major territorial expansion that North Charleston had been considering. Riley grabbed the prize, and Bourne called it “a greedy move” at the time, but, as Riley retires, Bourne recalled their relationship as a cooperative one.

“I never had any fight with Joe, never had an argument with him. He ran Charleston, I ran North Charleston.”

Bourne said Riley helped North Charleston with some initiatives.

“Like on the Coliseum, he was very helpful to me getting that moving along,” said Bourne. “He was interested in the total community.”

“I think certainly he’s going to be remembered, he did a good job. I wish him well.”

Bourne, 87, hasn’t lost his sense of humor. “Does he miss me?”

Former administrative assistant

Agnew, an Anderson native, moved to Charleston in 1996 to advise Mayor Riley as one of his two executive assistants.

In 2006, Agnew had left to form his own company, but worked with the mayor on a public-private deal to preserve Morris Island, the barrier island just south of Fort Sumter that was threatened by potential development. Agnew said that year he hoped Riley would run for re-election. but he was ready to consider running if Riley opted against it.

But Agnew eventually moved from advising a mayor to advising a president.

He later became director of Intergovernmental Affairs and deputy assistant to President Barack Obama and and kept in close touch with Riley — and scores of other state, city and county leaders across the nation.

Former James Island mayor

Clark repeatedly tangled with Riley as she led one of the several attempts by James Island residents to incorporate as their own town. Many said that creating their own government was favorable to being part of Charleston under Riley. She served as the town’s second mayor.

After four attempts at incorporation, James Island became a legally accepted town in 2012, and Riley announced the city would not challenge its legality again.

Clark, 83, still has nothing but political disdain for Riley whom she continues to blame for being annexation happy at the expense of locals while accusing him of using legal and legislative craftiness to do it.

She listed James Island, Johns Island, Daniel Island as just some of the territory Riley set his sight on, forever changing the quality of life for those who lived there.

“He probably would have gone to Paris, if he wanted to,” she said, and even blamed Riley for the odor of the sewage treatment plant on nearby Plum Island.

As for his legacy covering downtown?

“It’s not a good one. It’s never been a good one. He has destroyed the city except as a tourist trap,” she said.

She lamented James Island’s future. “The die has been cast. It’s already been done to James Island so many years ago.”

Former Charleston city councilman

Mallard was elected to Charleston City Council for one term, in 2007, representing West Ashley, James Island and Johns Island. He had one of the more famous rude feuds with Riley ever seen in City Hall. Their differences over city functions became so bad that in 2010, council considered enacting a proposed “rules of decorum” ordinance that most saw aimed squarely at Mallard.

While Mallard denied wrongdoing, Riley at one point had written three letters to him about his treatment of city staff.

“Even though Mayor Riley and I had some differences of opinion, I have always admired his dedication to the city of Charleston and his commitment to public service,” Mallard said.

Former parks director

A soft-spoken bearded man with a love of plants, Livingston became director of the city’s parks department during a period of great expansion and construction.

And he had a big role in it all, assuming not only the job of overseeing park maintenance but also capital projects.

He worked closely with the mayor and other city staff to sweat the details.

When the city’s first bluestone in generations was laid at Waterfront Park, neither Livingston nor Mayor Joe Riley were quite pleased, partly because the stones’ edges looked too perfect. Modern equipment created crisp lines, different from the chiseled look one would expect in a historic city.

Livingston had heard of a remedy, and the city and its contractors still use acetylene torches to carefully flake off the edges of the stone to give them a more aged look.

“It works,” Riley said in a 2007 interview. “It makes all the difference in the world.”

Former director of Planning, Preservation and Sustainability

In his recent years leading the city’s planning efforts, Keane was the point person in dealing with sticky land-use decisions, reviving suburban commercial zones, striking a balance between a thriving bar and restaurant scene and nearby residents, rethinking downtown’s future transportation network and even restructuring the city’s Board of Architectural Review.

Keane began working for the city in 1999 and briefly left for work in the private sector before returning to an expanded role.

Earlier this year, he left to take a high-profile post in Atlanta to oversee that city’s planning, housing programs and building permits.

“It’s hard for me to leave not only Charleston because of the place, but it is also hard because of all these issues that are at the forefront right now,” he said in May.

Administrative assistants

Thompson and Sullivan are two of the mayor’s longest, most trusted advisers, and their role in City Hall goes far beyond having lunch with Riley most days.

Aside from serving as an extra set of eyes and ears, they have offices in City Hall and often are in the room when the biggest decisions get made.

Thompson also has served under Riley as the city’s Housing and Economic Development director and managed at least one of his re-election bids.

Their roles aren’t well understood because both have shied away from publicity, knowing full well that their job is to make their boss — not themselves — look good.

Former Charleston fire chief

Along with Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, Thomas probably was the only city employee whose celebrity came close to rivaling the mayor’s.

A third-generation firefighter, Thomas joined the city department in 1976 and became its chief in 1992, helping it become one of the nation’s few fire departments to earn the highest insurance rating.

In 2007, the department was rocked to the core, as nine firefighters perished inside the Sofa Super Store blaze on Savannah Highway. Thomas had vowed to help the department work through the deficiencies the tragedy exposed, but a year later, he changed course.

As the investigation into the fire unfolded, experts found shortcomings with its training and equipment.

“I love this department and have given it my entire professional life, the loss of my nine friends last June 18 changed me and this department forever,” he wrote in his resignation letter to Riley.

“I feel as though the best thing I can do right now to help this department that I love so much heal from the tragedy of June 18 is to step aside as chief.”

Former Charleston city councilman

Campbell represented the city’s East Side for eight years, winning his first election despite having a marijuana conviction on his record.

He had an adversarial relationship with Riley, disagreeing with the mayor on the city’s response to gentrification as well as police conduct.

His tenure was clouded by a few high-profile legal run-ins that led to his being suspended from office in 2005. Two years later, his court problems ended when he was ordered to pay fines, restitution and court costs for campaign ethics violations and a single marijuana-possession charge.

Campbell was pardoned in 2012 for a variety of crimes dating back to 1993, and, while he lives in Greenville, he is still a voice in the city’s discussion over development and business opportunity for minorities.

“My priorities are in order now,” he said at the time. “Before, they weren’t.”


Riley has sought expertise well beyond the city limits, and Robertson is a prime example.

From 1980 to 1988, he was dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture, and Riley reached out to him during that time to pursue his idea of an institute that would teach mayors about urban design and city planning.

Together, they helped create the Mayor’s Institute on City Design, which continues to this day.

But Robertson, a Virginia native who has had a high-profile New York practice, also lent his design talent to several high-profile projects that helped transform Charleston.

They include with the Charleston Visitor Center, Waterfront Park, the Charleston County Judicial Center, and, most recently, the College of Charleston’s School of Education.

Robertson has said an architect’s ultimate client should be the person who visits the building decades into the future.

“It’s why Charleston, the best part of Charleston, transcends history and time and fashion and stuff that’s in and out of style,” he said.

Former city property coordinator

One reason city voters re-elected Mayor Riley again and again for so many years was that he was ethically above reproach, but that didn’t mean his administration escaped scandal entirely.

In 2002, the city’s property coordinator, Danny Molony, and his son Mark, were caught stealing city funds over several years by submitting phony invoices. They later pleaded guilty and went to prison.

Riley — a close friend of Molony’s father — spent several years pursuing legal avenues to get the city’s money back.

By 2010, the city agreed to a $50,000 settlement on its claim to a Mount Pleasant house owned by Molony and his wife. That brought the total collected by the city to $453,321 — more than the federal courts had ordered Molony to pay in restitution, but less than the uncontested $635,000 civil judgment that the city had won.

“People will never forgive me for what I’ve done,” Molony said in 2010, “and I’ve paid a price.”