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'Cardgate' says less about Tecklenburg than those who would be mayor

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Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg speaks at a City Council meeting on June 19, 2018. 

Charleston’s intimate City Council chamber was mobbed — the crowd spilling into the hallway outside — with people who had come for their 90 seconds at the microphone and seeking help from their local government.

There were two distinct groups: the Confederates who were there to warn that outside agitators were coming to destroy the landmark John C. Calhoun monument just as they had done to “Silent Sam” at the University of North Carolina last year. And then there were the Johns Island residents who were there to warn that developers were coming to destroy their community.

Silly people if, in fact, they thought Tuesday night was about them. Because the real show, The Harry Show, was still hours away, and everyone in the room who knew anything had known this for days. The Harry Show was well advertised.

I’ve spent the last year on these pages trying to promote a real contest for mayor. Heaven knows there is a lot to talk about. But after watching the embarrassing trial at City Council, I’ve almost changed my mind. If this is the best they can do, we should call the whole thing off.

The ocean is rising, hotels are gobbling every available downtown street corner and pretty soon only the tourists will be able to afford to live here. What Charleston needs, the council has decided on the eve of an election, is an investigation of the mayor’s business cards. Or is it the mayor’s wife’s business cards?

“Cardgate” is petty, bottom of the barrel stuff, even for this bunch. Harry Griffin, whose alleged campaign for mayor extends about as far as his Facebook page, was the leader of this hungry pack, demagoguing how Mayor John Tecklenburg and his wife, Sandy, share a business card with the mayor on one side and “first lady” on the other. And taxpayers are footing the bill — $162.63 for 500 cards!

“To recap real quick,” the West Ashley councilman read off a prepared text, “a non-elected, non-hired person has access to resources and means that no other resident has. She obtained that through blatant abuse of power of her mayor-husband and to top it all off expensed it back to the taxpayer.”

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From there it was a horror show of alleged fraud, waste and abuse. Gary White, who for years played the council’s strong silent type until he announced for mayor in April, wagged his finger about how such behavior would certainly lead to termination in the business world he knows so well. Bill Moody, a White supporter, tutted how none of this was personal and Sandy was a fine woman, etc., but an old auditor like him knows smoke when he sees it.

Mike Seekings, the council’s third mayoral wannabe, spent a lot of time inspecting his tie and looking like he wanted to be anywhere but there. Peter Shahid, to his credit, was the only one in the room willing to call all this election-year posturing for the baloney it is. Shahid for mayor?

Tecklenburg didn’t cover himself with glory either. Appearing alternatively near weepy and apologetic, he called his wife a “one-person social-service agency” who works tirelessly and without pay for those in need. Rather than defending her by reading from the Bible, he should have put the Good Book to good use by slapping Griffin upside the head.

There is no shortage of material if you want to go after Tecklenburg. The city — his administration — has estimated it will cost $2 billion to fix our flooding problem, and he has raised almost no new money in 3 1/2 years on the job. His big idea of using tourism taxes for flooding is a dead letter in the Legislature. The Crosstown drainage project is tens of millions over budget. Want to question the mayor’s judgment? Ask why a judge last year removed him as conservator of an elderly woman’s estate and why he used it to lend money to himself and his wife’s gift shop.

Yes, there is a lot to talk about and even more to do. But Cardgate tells you almost nothing about the mayor and an awful lot about those making all the noise.

Steve Bailey writes for the Commentary page. He can be reached at sjbailey1060@yahoo.com. Follow on Twitter @sjbailey1060.

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