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In his State of the City speech Tuesday, Mayor John Tecklenburg focused on flooding, public safety and affordable housing. Which was also the focus of last year’s address. File/Gavin McIntyre/Staff

In his annual address Tuesday, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg declared the state of the city “confident” and “optimistic.”

Which, coincidentally, are two words he could probably use to describe his re-election prospects … although he’d never say that.

As The Post and Courier’s Emma Whalen reported last week, Tecklenburg has four announced opponents so far for November’s election, and after the most recent campaign financial filings, he has slightly more money than all of them combined.

That’s a big advantage since he won’t have to spend a dime of that raising his name recognition. Seeing as how, you know, he’s been mayor for seven years.

But it was Tuesday’s State of the City address that showed the true benefits of tenure — and incumbency. In his short speech, Tecklenburg recounted several recent city successes and ongoing projects that have occurred on his watch:

  • Violent crime down more than 10% as the city has raised both the police and fire budgets by $10 million in recent years; and his administration’s work with Solicitor Scarlett Wilson and Gov. Henry McMaster to keep violent repeat offenders off the streets.
  • More than 30 flood mitigation projects in the works, as well as plans to ban slab construction and building in areas that would exacerbate flooding.
  • More than 800 units of affordable housing built, with 500 more coming.
  • Various improved and new public parks, and myriad road projects — admittedly the state and county’s bailiwick — that the city supports to alleviate traffic West of the Ashley.

So: crime, flooding, affordable housing, traffic and quality of life.

Yeah, he played all the greatest hits.

Fact is, Tecklenburg has staked out probably the most popular positions on the issues most important to Charlestonians. And that’s going to make it tough for his opponents to get around him.

For instance, local developer and former state lawmaker William Cogswell diplomatically attributed the genesis of his mayoral bid to concerns about crime. That was no doubt a reference to the May 2020 King Street riot, which Tecklenburg critics tried to blame on him — some even accused him of ordering police to stand down.

But dispatch tapes said different, and Teck used the moment to blast left-wing hoopla about defunding the police. “Hell no,” he said at the time.

No surprise that, on Tuesday, he made sure to mention increased public safety funding, which Cogswell has promised, and raises for cops and firefighters — incidentally, another of Cogswell’s planks.

Several mayoral candidates have said affordable housing is an important issue for their campaigns, and that got prominent mention Tuesday, too. And one, Clay Middleton, has also raised the issue of fostering opportunities for small businesses, particularly those owned by women and minorities.

In his address, Tecklenburg praised a new, affordable housing complex called the James Lewis Homes that opens on the East Side later this year. One of its most important features is a first-floor business incubator targeting — yep — female- and minority-owned businesses.

Even local activist Mika Gadsden, who’s fighting the city over plans for Gadsden Creek (well, what’s left of it), will have a hard time painting her campaign as a generational fight with the old guard against the guy who took down the John C. Calhoun statue.

But Teck didn’t mention that Tuesday.

Most of the mayoral candidates have been forced to say fairly nice things about Tecklenburg when they announced, commending him for recruiting the Dutch to help with flooding or the like. Usually, their platforms don’t suggest radical change, just “more.” Which is telling.

It’d be easy, and cynical, to say Tecklenburg mentioned all these things Tuesday because — hey — there’s a city election in nine months. And some will anyway.

They’d have a better point if flooding, crime and those quality-of-life issues hadn’t been in the works long before anyone revealed their campaign plans.

That’s not to say Tecklenburg is a lock. In municipal elections, where turnout is often anemic, anything can happen. And there are some solid challengers out there — old Charleston names, a couple of electorally tested candidates and next-generation political operators.

But the State of the City address illustrates why Tecklenburg avoided the one-and-done fate of a single term that virtually everyone — including me — predicted for anyone who followed Joe Riley.

High ground is hard to come by in Charleston. And all the folks running for mayor are going to have a tough time finding any of it that Tecklenburg hasn’t already staked claim to.

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Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

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