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North Charleston City Hall Tuesday, July 9, 2019, in North Charleston. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

In what is likely his final bid for reelection, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey leads his competitors in campaign funds less than four months before voters decide between the longtime incumbent and three others vying for the seat.

Though they have less money, Summey's challengers are confident in their grassroots approach to oust the mayor and beat their competitors in the Nov. 5 election.

The mayor's opponents all feel his administration has largely ignored the city's high-poverty areas and minority population.

Summey raised $37,600 between April and June and has $103,434 on hand, according to his campaign disclosure form.

His challengers have raised far less. John Singletary, who lost to Summey by a 2-1 margin in 2015, leads Summey's opponents in contributions on hand.

  • Singletary raised $4,050 over the recent period and currently has $8,201
  • Pastor Thomas Dixon raised $2,780, with $7,098 on hand
  • Ashley Peele pulled in $2,460 over the period and has $3,055 in her war chest.
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Pastor Thomas Dixon. Provided

In addition to fundraising, Dixon said he's focused on grassroots efforts and plans to solicit support from potential voters ages 18-40 at clubs and community events.

“I want people to be able to look at the ethics report and understand we don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to win elections," said Dixon, who announced his candidacy in 2017.

The mayor said he hasn't made "any real efforts" to raise funds, but plans to increase fundraising activity as the election approaches.

Several of Summey's 41 contributions this period came from LLC groups, which drew the mayor criticism during the 2015 election period.

Though South Carolina sets the limit on individual donations to a local campaign at $1,000, donors have routinely skirted the law using what is known as the LLC loophole, where companies registered to a single person are treated as individual donors.

On just one day during his 2015 campaign, Summey reported $5,000 in donations from limited liability companies registered to a Charleston hotelier.

Summey said the business community supports his campaign because they appreciate the attitude the city takes toward growth.

“No contributions to a campaign has ever changed my mind on anything," he said.

A reelection would give Summey, 72, nearly 30 years under his belt as North Charleston's mayor. He intends to call it quits after another term, barring the city completes some projects, like the aquatics center under way at Fort Dorchester High School and two new senior centers.

"I probably need to give my wife a little attention," he said. "I love what I do. I think we made some extremely good headway in the 25 years I’ve been here in quality-of-life issues."

Whoever the next mayor is, they'll make a hefty salary.

North Charleston leaders voted late last year to increase the mayoral salary to $193,880 — a 10 percent increase from Summey’s $176,225 income.

The issues

In addition to pointing to his previous success, Summey said campaign efforts will include talking with local communities about plans to establish more affordable housing, strengthen relationships with North Charleston schools, and continue efforts to reduce crime.

His challengers are focused on similar issues, but say the mayor hasn't done much to help the city's low-income communities, which are largely populated with minorities.

Former North Charleston mayoral candidate John Singletary sues city, media (copy)

John Singletary. Provided

Singletary, 57, a North Charleston native, fears gentrification on the Charleston peninsula is creeping up the Neck Area into North Charleston and worries about the displacement that'll be caused by the Interstate 526 expansion.

If elected, he said, he'll work with the S.C. Department of Transportation to ensure displaced residents receive fair market value for their homes.

“What I’m trying to do is protect the entire city through making sure those who have been disadvantaged the most, are taken care of," he said.

A Chicago native and community activist, Dixon, 66, has long advocated for issues surrounding education and gun violence in the Charleston area. Dixon, who moved to South Carolina in 1985, said he would continue advocating for those issues in the mayor's seat. 

He also said the city should put more pressure on the Charleston County School District to improve the quality of education. Pointing to North Charleston's failing schools, the pastor said, “Maybe we need to take our money elsewhere," referring to North Charleston taxpayers dollars that help fund county schools.

Peele, 33, is passionate about affordability and feels the city should have departments primarily focused on issues like housing affordability.

If elected, Peele would be the city's first female and openly gay mayor. She said representation and visibility matters, adding that all levels of government need more women and openly LGBTQ representatives.

Her bid comes months after the city received a failing score in the 2018 Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index survey that analyzed LGBTQ inclusion across American cities and towns.

"If we don’t win this election, hopefully, we would have moved the bar a little farther," she said.

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