And, so, the Kylon Middleton Watch begins.
A month before he is even sworn in as a Charleston County councilman, Middleton is serving notice he has no intention of “sitting in the corner” and being quiet as the newbie on the council. In fact, he is ruffling more than a few feathers — Teddie Pryor’s in particular — by making it clear that he thinks he’s plenty qualified to be chairman right now, no training wheels required.
“I am ready,” he told me. “I can lead. I have the skill set that makes me eligible to be the chairman.”
The Rev. Kylon Middleton is a man to watch, one of the most fascinating and promising figures in Charleston in a generation.
He has not taken his first vote on council, and yet it is not hard to look at him and see Charleston’s first black mayor, 350 years in the making.
Charismatic, elegant, smart — and, yes, confident — Middleton, at the age of 48, already has a lifetime of success behind him as a pastor, educator and community leader.
Consider: He graduated from Burke High School at 15, had his own church in North Charleston at 16 and a degree from the College of Charleston at 18. And later graduate degrees from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, the University of North Carolina and Duke.
After working in admissions at the College of Charleston, Middleton spent years as a teacher, principal and administrator in South Carolina and North Carolina public schools. He also has been a pastor for more than 25 years and today oversees the historic (and gorgeous) Mount Zion AME Church on Glebe Street. He headed the city’s Illumination Project, with the challenging job of improving police and community relations.
Saving souls and educating kids is one thing; navigating the political world is something else all together. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players ever, hit .202 in Double-A ball and washed out after a single season. That is what will make watching Pastor/Councilman Middleton’s transition so interesting. Can he hit the curveball?
He is hardly tiptoeing into his new life.
County Council is sworn in Jan. 5 and elects a chairman the same day. Middleton wants the job. So does Pryor. It will take five votes.
Middleton says he and Pryor have discussed the issue “many times.”
“We end up in the same place: Teddie wants to be chairman.”
Pryor, at least, can say he has experience: In his previous turn as chairman, he presided over the fiasco that is the Charleston Naval Hospital, the benchmark for all public development deals gone bad. He is also literally on the payroll of the Summey cabal that has made County Council a wholly owned subsidiary of North Charleston.
“We will let January 5 play itself out,” is all Pryor will say.
Pryor, who is also black, didn’t want Middleton on County Council at all. He, North Charleston City Councilman Jerome Heyward and others all supported Christian Rainey, a black North Charleston firefighter best known for losing his mother and four siblings in a horrid domestic violence shooting in 2006, in the June primary. Middleton won the West Ashley-North Charleston seat by 6 points.
Then Middleton, a Democrat, faced Darryl Ray Griffin, a Republican and father of Harry, in the general election. It was, in short, a Charleston proxy for the Obama vs. Trump matchup that never was. Griffin even had the backing of Greenville activist Kwadjo Campbell, who was a paid consultant. Middleton won by 10 points.
“They knew I wasn’t going to come in and fall in line,” says Middleton, who lives in West Ashley. “I don’t need to be trained and mentored by that crowd.”
Whether he wins or loses on Jan. 5 — and the odds are against him — is less important than the way he has announced his arrival. County Council has long been a go-along-to-get-along place, with members often doing a better job of taking care of themselves and their friends than their constituents.
Charleston County taxpayers know that all too well. They sent a clear message last month when they approved higher taxes for the school district and rejected the council’s request for affordable-housing money. Who would write this bunch a blank check for more than $100 million?
Middleton ran on a promise of restoring trust, or “moral leadership,” as he put it. County Council, the backwater of local government, is a good place to start.
Steve Bailey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @sjbailey1060.