Stephen Bowden is a newcomer to Charleston politics. His campaign for City Council’s District 10 is his first bid for public office, but the young lawyer is familiar with the workings of government in his role as an assistant public defender in Charleston County, and we believe he would provide an important voice of reason as the city grapples with how to adjust to a rising sea.
Mr. Bowden says the most important issue facing the city is how to manage and limit development responsibly, particularly in a way that addresses the impact on flooding and traffic. He vows to work on zoning reform that takes elevation, hydrology, available infrastructure and other factors into account. The city’s new comprehensive plan calls for doing just that, and making it happen is expected to be one of City Council’s main challenges in the coming year.
And he supports the city’s continued work with the Army Corps of Engineers on a new surge barrier for the peninsula, but he believes the current plan must be improved to address ecological, cost and equity questions being raised by some, including the Coastal Conservation League.
Mr. Bowden said he also would try to reduce the amount of partisan division and the personality conflicts on council and make its operation more collegial, promising on his campaign website to “balance the budget and collect the trash without causing drama or playing politics.” It’s a worthy aspiration after a disturbing erosion of civility as the pandemic has dragged on. “Sometimes it seems like they don’t talk at all outside of the meetings and spend their meetings thinking out loud rather than following any deliberative process,” he says. “Some members are much more responsible for these problems than others, and I am running to replace one of them.”
Indeed, Mr. Bowden faces Councilman Harry Griffin, who too often has made headlines for the wrong reasons, whether it’s being accused of speaking with members of a far-right group about a rally (which led to the call for a council “code of conduct”) or getting charged with driving under the influence (a charge later dropped when the arresting officer opted to change careers) or declaring (wrongly, as it turns out) he would not seek reelection.
District 10 includes the northernmost part of West Ashley along S.C. Highway 61 and the Ashley River. Mr. Bowden favors the bus rapid transit line being developed between Ladson and downtown Charleston and wants to extend a branch of it to West Ashley. He also supports adding more of a bike path along Highway 61, particularly around Church Creek and the railroad tracks near Bees Ferry Road. He also favors the extension of I-526, a position we hope he’ll change as he learns more about how much that would cost taxpayers and the environment.
Aside from road building, some of Mr. Bowden’s priorities might be to the left of what District 10 voters are accustomed to, but the more conservative incumbent has disappointingly rendered himself ineffective on the council. We expect that even if Mr. Bowden wanted to stray too far, voters would pull him back toward the center. Besides, he’s hardly a radical.
Mr. Bowden makes it clear that he doesn’t support defunding the police or making reparations for slavery in the form of direct payments, but he says some of the other proposals from the city’s Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation should be acted on. “Most of the recommendations are not controversial and go along with important work that the city is already doing, particularly in affordable housing and criminal justice,” he says.
He backs a recommendation in the “Housing for a Fair Charleston” report to promote city land banking and community land trusts to help maintain affordable housing for families who have historically lived in the same neighborhood.
Mr. Bowden’s day job with the Public Defender’s Office reflects his calling to public service and has taught him about how drug addiction, the mental health crisis and homelessness all work toward making the city less safe. “We will never reduce crime rates without addressing the underlying causes,” he said, “and we certainly cannot incarcerate our way out of these problems.”
It’s apparent that Mr. Bowden has done his homework, knows his district and would be a valuable addition to City Council. Voters should put him there.