Everyone likes to complain about the manager. But more often than not it’s the players. Charleston could badly use a new and improved lineup on City Council. Voters should send some of these guys — and they are all guys — home come Election Day.
While the Nov. 5 election will rightly be a referendum on John Tecklenburg’s first term as mayor, the last 3 1/2 years have made it abundantly clear that council can be part of the solution or part of the problem. Too often this bunch has been part of the problem.
Exhibit A: Cardgate, the council’s big bust of an election-eve audit of the mayor.
Whether Tecklenburg’s wife has a city business card isn’t going to make any Charlestonian’s life better or worse. Is kicking in $1,000 for the 90th birthday of Lonnie Hamilton, a local icon, the best they can do for corruption? Does anyone really want to run against a heroes reception for those who rescued a kidnapped 4-year-old girl?
Hurricane Dorian has a way of refocusing the mind on what matters.
This is a city council that couldn’t even agree on the need to seek funding from the State Infrastructure Bank to rebuild the crumbling Low Battery, something that should have been addressed a decade ago. Councilman Keith Waring has almost single-handedly endangered the city’s flood insurance rating by foolishly objecting to tougher requirements to rebuild after natural disasters. And then, of course, there are the hotels: Council spent three years rejecting one Tecklenburg plan after another to keep every downtown corner from turning into a Holiday Inn. And on and on.
Charleston is alleged to have a “strong mayor’’ system, meaning we don’t have a city manager but the mayor serves as the full-time chief operating officer. In effect, post-Joe Riley, all 12 part-time council members have the same vote as Tecklenburg. No matter that Harry Griffin got 446 votes and Tecklenburg 13,500 votes. When the 24-year-old Griffin and too many others on this council look in the mirror every morning they think, ‘’Why not me?’’
Tecklenburg has brought some of this on himself through rookie mistakes. He got off on the wrong foot by telling council members they should deal with him through designated aides, rather than directly, and he hasn’t exactly been a champion of communication since. Probably the single dumbest thing he did was try to take out Councilman Dudley Gregorie, turning a reasonable man into a score-settling adversary.
All six council races are being contested, a good thing. In a city divided against itself, two of the races to watch are in West Ashley.
West Ashley Councilman Bill Moody is facing a stiff challenge from attorney Ross Appel, who as a grandson of Joe Sokol, the longtime owner of Morris Sokol Furniture, has deep roots in the West Ashley and Jewish communities. Appel also has the support of the Lowcountry Livability PAC, run by Dana Beach and Hugh Lane, which is ready to spend big on this race. Moody, 75, will counter by portraying Appel, 35, as part of the anti-526 crowd.
Waring, the other half of the Bruise Brothers, is being challenged by the Rev. Christian King, who was recruited to the race in part by attorney Roy Willey, the bow-tied Tecklenburg political operative who has become a lightning rod among the mayor’s many council foes. Another West Ashley councilman, Peter Shahid, the gold standard on this council, will be hard to beat, but who knows in an election where the turnout is so thin?
The downtown race to watch is the seat that James Lewis has held for more than two decades. Lewis, 70, barely survived a runoff four years ago and is facing four opponents in a fast-gentrifying district. Jason Sakran, 45, who runs an after-school program for 5,000 Charleston County kids, is also backed by the Lowcountry Livabilty PAC; whether that helps or hurts is yet to be seen.
In an unpredictable election year, the one sure bet is the council is going to get at least one more woman in addition to James Island’s Carol Jackson. With Gary White giving up his Daniel Island seat after 12 years to run for mayor, voters will have a choice between Marie Delcioppo, president of the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association, and Angela Black Drake, a real estate broker.
Let’s hope the women can restore a spirit of cooperation in city government where the men have failed so badly. We need to get on the same page. Dorian demands no less.
Steve Bailey writes for the Commentary page. He can be reached at sjbailey1060@ yahoo.com. Follow on Twitter @sjbailey1060.