John Tecklenburg wins Charleston mayor’s race

Charleston Mayor-elect John Tecklenburg greets supporters at his victory party Tuesday night. (Paul Zoeller/Staff)

John Tecklenburg, a piano-playing businessman with a ready smile and an affable campaign style, was elected Tuesday as Charleston’s first new mayor in 40 years.

Tecklenburg sealed the deal with a double-digit win over state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis.

“Ain’t it grand,” Tecklenburg told his hundreds of cheering supporters inside the Charleston Marriott. “I so look forward to serving the city.”

Tecklenburg thanked “God our creator,” his family, his campaign volunteers, and particularly former mayoral candidate Ginny Deerin, who later endorsed him. He also thanked his opponent, saying Stavrinakis “ran a confident and spirited campaign” and “has been a real public servant for Charleston.”

At his campaign party at the Historic Rice Mill, Stavrinakis conceded the race around 8:40 p.m. He said he ran for mayor because Charleston is a great place. “Nothing has changed. It’s still about this place,” he said.

He thanked his supporters and campaign workers, and asked them to get behind Tecklenburg first thing in the morning.

“I’m still a member of the House of Representatives,” he said. And he’ll continue to serve the Charleston area in that capacity. “I am humbled and honored to be able to continue to serve,” he said.

He also took time to acknowledge outgoing Mayor Joe Riley for his service. “Our city is losing one of the great leaders of America,” he said.

Campaign spokesman Tyler Jones said Stavrinakis would not do any media interviews.

Riley said late Tuesday he has spoken privately with both candidates and congratulated them on their campaigns and for giving city voters “a fine choice.”

He said by the time he talked with Tecklenburg, his victory seemed assured. “I know he’s going to be a great mayor,” Riley said.

With 93 of 96 precincts reporting, Tecklenburg had 57.5 percent of the vote to Stavrinakis’ 42.5 percent in unofficial results. Stavrinakis conceded just after 8:40 at his campaign party at the Historic Rice Mill.

The winner takes over for Riley, who was first elected in 1975 but who announced before his 2011 re-election bid that this would be his final term.

Steady voter turnout was reported at the polls through the day.

In recent days, Stavrinakis’ campaign and at least one other group have attacked Tecklenburg as a former member of the Coastal Conservation League, which opposes Interstate 526.

Stavrinakis also claimed Tecklenburg supported the proposed closure of a traffic lane on the Ashley River bridge for bikes and that he refused further debates.

One pro-Stavrinakis mailer was sent by the group, “Better Future for Charleston,” an anonymous group of the kind Riley blasted during his 2011 re-election bid.

Meanwhile, Tecklenburg’s campaign fought back with a television ad labeling Stavrinakis “a career politician” and a hypocrite. The ad showed Stavrinakis saying, “In Charleston, we don’t build others up by knocking others down,” then showed his attack ad on Tecklenburg.

The candidates agreed about major issues, such as the need to complete the controversial I-526 segment from West Ashley to Johns and James islands, and the need to revitalize the city’s West Ashley suburb.

They differed on their backgrounds. Stavrinakis has worked his way up the political ladder, spending 17 years on Charleston County Council, then in the state Legislature. He runs his own law firm and described himself as the candidate most ready to lead the city.

Tecklenburg had not run for office before, but he is no stranger to politics. He oversaw former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings’ last re-election bid in 1998. Tecklenburg founded an oil company, worked under Riley as the city’s economic development director, ran a store briefly on Daniel Island and currently works as a commercial real estate agent.

About 26 percent of the city’s voters cast ballots in the original Nov. 3 election, and reports from the polls Tuesday painted a mixed picture as to whether that mark would be eclipsed today.

Two weeks ago, Stavrinakis won the vote on Johns Island and in the St. Andrews precincts between the Ashley and Stono rivers, while Tecklenburg prevailed downtown and on James and Daniel islands.

Tuesday’s winner is scheduled to take office in January for the $180,000 a year job that involves chairing City Council and running a government with more than 1,700 full-time employees.

Reach Robert Behre at (843) 937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre.