Monday is the first day to file to run for Charleston mayor, but it is looking very much like a two-man race. While quite a few have put a finger in the wind, most of them could probably find better use for their $1,000 filing fee than a Hail Mary shot at the mayor’s office.
Young Harry Griffin, for instance, might apply the whopping $5,750 he raised as a down payment on the $50,000-and-counting he cost taxpayers for a bust of an election-year audit of the mayor’s wife’s business cards.
Money matters in politics whether you are running for president of the United States or mayor of Charleston. Four years ago, Leon Stavrinakis, a well-regarded legislator, raised $1.2 million for the privilege of getting crushed by John Tecklenburg, who raised even more ($1.4 million).
Now, three months before the Nov. 5 election, Tecklenburg, 63, and Mike Seekings, 59, have a huge lead over everybody else. As of the last campaign finance report in July, Tecklenburg had $577,464 in the bank and Seekings — thanks to a $255,000 check he wrote to himself — had $439,587.
And Seekings, the lead lawyer in a $46 million class-action settlement earlier this year, is rolling in dough and able to keep writing checks if he wants. He also plans to forgo the mayor’s $188,722 salary, something Tecklenburg is in no position to do.
By comparison, Daniel Island City Councilman Gary White had $32,458 in the bank, and this after loaning his campaign $40,000. This doesn’t inspire confidence, particularly given he barely eked out his re-election in a runoff four years ago. Seekings was unopposed in his last race.
Unless Seekings gets hit by a bus — and the chairman of CARTA should never get hit by a bus — he is by far the most formidable challenger to Tecklenburg. Taking out an incumbent mayor is no easy task. How to do it?
Present an alternative theory of the case
Seekings must do in the next three months what neither he nor anyone else on the council has done in the past three years — offer an alternative vision for the city or, at the very least, convince voters that they can get things done that Tecklenburg hasn’t. There’s been plenty of bickering at City Hall, mostly around the margins, but no one (Seekings included) has used the past few years to build that case.
Show us the money
Everyone agrees flooding is Charleston’s No. 1 problem. Tecklenburg has brought in the Dutch, he has brought in the Army Corps of Engineers, but he hasn’t brought in any new money to fix flooding. His big idea to reallocate tourism dollars died in the Legislature. Now he is betting on the Corps of Engineers. If that fails, then what? (Heaven knows we can’t go to the State Infrastructure Bank or the county for half-cent sales tax money because that could undermine the Highway of Our Dreams.) Voters must decide whether Tecklenburg deserves more time or if Seekings is a better bet.
Can’t we all just get along?
Tecklenburg is a nice guy who has few friends on City Council. Joe Riley was a master of herding cats, Tecklenburg a master of angering everyone. Whether that is because council had no intention of ceding power to another mayor or because of Tecklenburg’s failure to communicate (a frequent complaint), it almost doesn’t matter. Check the campaign finance reports: Carol Jackson is the only council member to contribute to the mayor’s re-election, and she’s in for all of $263. It’s hard to imagine Seekings, who has spent a decade on council, could do worse.
Move to Church Creek
Because of annexation, Charleston is a city constantly at war with itself. More than anything, Tecklenburg, a first-time candidate, was elected because he could lay claim to being both from West Ashley (where he lives) and the peninsula (where his roots are). Seekings is a downtown guy. In an election where maybe 25,000 votes will be cast, almost half from West Ashley, being a rich lawyer living on Montagu Street is not an advantage.
Steve Bailey writes for the Commentary page. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @sjbailey1060.