Tecklenburg and Seekings mayor

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and Councilman Mike Seekings are the two candidates in the 2019 mayoral runoff election. File

Now down to two candidates, Charleston’s mayoral race has entered its second and final phase, one that will spotlight the differences between incumbent Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Councilman Mike Seekings.

Tecklenburg is finishing his first four-year term and Seekings has served 10 years on council so they each shoulder credit — or blame — for the city’s current direction. On many issues, the differences between the two are slim to none.

The certified results of last week’s voting showed Tecklenburg with 12,556 votes, just shy of 48 percent. Seekings received 8,998 votes, about 34 percent. The city’s election laws require candidates to receive more than 50 percent to win.

In expectation of a runoff, The Post and Courier sent each campaign a series of questions before the Nov. 5 race. Their answers highlight where Tecklenburg and Seekings generally agree — and where they don’t.

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Mayor John Tecklenburg holds a press conference outside his West Ashley home to respond to Mike Seekings' comments that he is the only candidate who supports the I-526 extension, on Wednesday, November 6, 2019. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

Where they differ 

Seekings was decisive in his responses to The Post and Courier: He said he feels the city needs a more aggressive mayor who works effectively at the city, regional and state levels; that the city isn't doing enough to address race relations and was surprised by the Charleston Police Department audit findings. 

Tecklenburg said he feels Charleston manners may come off as a lack of aggressiveness: "If you look at the record over the past four years, you'll see that time and again, persistence and civility have led to real breakthroughs on major issues," he said, citing new anti-flooding policies, the hotel-limiting ordinance, affordable housing and investments in traffic relief.

Tecklenburg said race relations has been "an area we've worked to make real progress," noting the city's creation of a Diversity and Racial Conciliation office and the racial bias audit of the Charleston Police Department. He wouldn't say whether he was surprised by the audit's findings but focused on future reforms in the department underway. 

Seekings doesn't think City Council has been an obstacle to limiting hotel development because "the mayor's policy proposals have been lacking."

He said he feels he has a close working relationship with City Council as a long-serving councilman and would continue that working relationship if elected mayor. 

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Mayoral candidate Mike Seekings speaks to his supporters after finding out he will be going into a runoff election against Mayor John Tecklenburg, during an election-results party at his campaign headquarters on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

Asked if City Council should shoulder more blame than he for how long it took to put any new limits on new hotels, Tecklenburg wouldn't bite. Instead, he said, "I think it makes more sense to look to the future than to debate the past."

Seekings said the city isn't on track to fix its longstanding flooding problems because there isn't a plan on which projects should receive priority and financing.

Tecklenburg feels the city has a plan and is making "enormous progress" on the city's longstanding flooding problems thanks to recent work through the Dutch Dialogues, Army Corps of Engineers, and city staff and residents.

Seekings thinks that relying on the Army Corps is "misplaced." 

To address hotel development, Seekings said the city should go through the city's zoning codes "parcel by parcel to make the best strategic decisions." 

Tecklenburg feels the new hotel ordinance is working and he plans to reconvene the city's Hotel Task Force in six months "to take a hard look at how things are shaking out" and see if further action is necessary. 

Seekings said he feels there should be a "cap and limitations" on new rooftop bars "relative to residential neighborhoods." 

Tecklenburg noted the Hotel Task Force is considering strict limitations on rooftop bars that need to be reviewed before considering alternative steps.  

Seekings said he wouldn't consider a property tax increase if elected mayor, and that he doesn't feel all parts of the city are adequately represented on the city's zoning boards. 

Tecklenburg didn't answer the question, but said the city's flooding issues "can't be solved" with tax increases. 

Seekings said the city's Stormwater, Traffic and Transportation and Planning departments should receive more funding because they're "on the front lines of our city's biggest challenges: flooding, traffic and overdevelopment." He said the city's executive department has "sprawled and created layers of bureaucracy," and should receive less funding. 

Tecklenburg said the city has increased resources for flooding, traffic, affordable housing and public safety the past four years and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future. He did not specify any departments where he would cut funding.

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Mayoral candidate Mike Seekings.  Lauren Petracca/Staff

In his first 30 days, Seekings said he would have departments prioritize infrastructure projects.

Tecklenburg said the Army Corps of Engineers' flooding plan, which is expected to be released in January or February, and Dutch Dialogues implementation would be his priority in the first 30 days. 

Seekings said the decision to take the Calhoun monument down should be one the city makes. 

As for the controversial John C. Calhoun monument in Marion Square, Tecklenburg said he believes the "most realistic path forward" is adding more monuments and context for the Calhoun monument. 

Tecklenburg said he feels the city has made "a great deal of progress in ensuring that our boards are more representative" of the city and plans to continue those efforts if reelected. Seekings doesn't think the boards' compositions are reflective enough of all parts of the city. 

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Mayor John Tecklenburg. Lauren Petracca/Staff

Where they align

Both Tecklenburg and Seekings agree that flooding, infrastructure and overdevelopment are top issues facing the city.

Both agree that the city should have more home rule — or authority to conduct its own affairs. While the Legislature granted cities and counties Home Rule in 1975, many feel it didn't go far enough. Seekings noted the city can't even address the John C. Calhoun monument in Marion Square without the Legislature's blessing.

Both he and Tecklenburg also support denser redevelopment of West Ashley's Citadel Mall, and both vowed to lobby the Legislature for the authority to put a head tax on cruise ship passengers passing through Charleston's port. 

Any registered voter in the city of Charleston may vote in the Nov. 19 runoff, even if they didn’t vote last Tuesday.

But if history is a guide, not quite as many will.

In 2015, both Tecklenburg and his mayoral challenger Leon Stavrinakis increased their vote totals in the runoff election from their original totals.

But without as many names on the ballot, about 1,400 fewer city voters cast ballots in the 2015 runoff: Turnout in the first election was 26 percent, but dipped to slightly less than 25 percent two weeks later.

On Tuesday, turnout was 22 percent.

The Nov. 19 runoff will also fill the City Council District 3 seat currently held by Councilman James Lewis. He faces local business owner Jason Sakran in that runoff race.

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Reach Mikaela Porter at 843-937-5906. Follow her on Twitter @mikaelaporterPC. 

Mikaela Porter joined The Post and Courier in April 2019 and writes about the city of Charleston. Previously, Mikaela reported on breaking news, local government, school issues and community happenings for The Hartford Courant in Hartford, Conn.