Our history plays an important role in defining the types of leaders we go on to become. And my history begins in North Charleston.
I was born and raised by a single mom who was working hard to provide for me and my four brothers. We lived in a two-bedroom trailer off Ashley Phosphate Road with three other family members. We struggled the same way so many families still struggle today. It was apparent to me, early on, that if I was going to break the chain of generational poverty in my family, I was going to need to get a good education. I attended North Charleston public schools (Pepperhill, Birney and Stall), and went on to become the first in my family to go to college, graduating summa cum laude from Clemson University with a degree in land planning. I came back home to North Charleston after graduating, got a great job at a tech company, and 10 years later, I’m serving on the executive leadership team of that same company.
I never imagined I’d become involved in politics. Certainly, the profile of many politicians would indicate that politics aren’t for people like me. But that’s a perspective I hope to change.
We need fewer candidates who are (or are looking to be) well-connected to the powerful elite and more candidates who are well-connected to their communities and the issues in those communities. Too many feel that the system is rigged and have lost hope that their vote matters. But in a local election like North Charleston, where 6,396 votes elected our mayor in 2015, every vote is important. I want North Charleston to have a candidate who will ensure the city’s priorities reflect the people’s priorities. That’s why I’m in the race.
As I’ve spoken with residents across North Charleston, I’ve heard first-hand their top-of-mind issues. North Charlestonians look at Charleston and Mount Pleasant and see the manifestation of some of their concerns related to growth — high costs of living, lack of affordable housing, poor transit infrastructure, the displacement of predominately minority residents — and they rightly want a leader who will be thoughtful and proactive about these issues as North Charleston grows. They want to be able to continue to live, work and play in this city as it grows, enjoy their neighborhoods without fear of crime, put healthy food on their tables, and feel like their city leaders truly care about them. We’re a proud city, and we need a leader who believes North Charleston can be a world-class city.
As North Charleston grows, I want to ensure the city is growing equitably and sustainably. In my first four years as mayor, I’ll create departments and positions focused on solving the city’s top issues because we’ve grown large enough to require that kind of organizational structure. The Department of Transit and Mobility, for example, will ensure we have multimodal infrastructure plans that connect our city from within. This group will also work with its counterparts in other municipalities to plan for connectivity across the tri-county area. The Department of Housing will work with the community to develop affordable housing solutions. I’ll also create a team to manage the city’s growth in a way that sets all of our communities up for success, protects our natural resources, and anticipates our infrastructure needs.
In addition, a diversity and equity officer will be hired to ensure the city’s workforce is reflective of the community it serves and that its systems and policies promote racial equity. I’ll also work with Police Chief Reggie Burgess to advance his vision for addressing our city’s crime and improving community relations with more transparency and data-based reporting. And with better negotiators at the table, I’m confident that we’ll finally bring a grocery store to our south end. In the meantime, I’ll explore food co-ops and community-based food access programs that bring local food to people where they are.
Local elections impact our daily lives far more than national elections. If you believe that our elected leaders should be representative of the people and advance the interests of the people, there is no more important time for your voice to be heard than at the polls on Nov. 5.
Ashley Peele is a candidate for mayor of North Charleston.