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Editorial: Tecklenburg reelection a chance for a fresh start for Charleston

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Mayor John Tecklenburg and wife Sandy celebrate his runoff win against City Councilman Mike Seekings at a victory party at the Charleston Marriott. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Mayor John Tecklenburg promised to focus on quality-of-life issues when he was elected to his first term in 2015. Charleston voters liked what they saw over the past four years and gave him a mandate Tuesday to continue concentrating on livability for all residents.

Mr. Tecklenburg handily defeated City Councilman Mike Seekings in a runoff election, earning more than 60 percent of the vote.

Speaking at his victory celebration, with balloons spelling out “One Charleston” as a backdrop, the mayor talked about the continued need to address issues that affect everyone, including flooding, traffic congestion, affordable housing and public safety.

“That’s what our vision of ‘One Charleston’ is all about,” Mr. Tecklenburg told supporters. Notably, he also extended an olive branch to Mr. Seekings, a 10-year council veteran.

The focus on unity was encouraging after a contentious election campaign in which two councilmen ran against him and others supported his opponents.

Faced with the unenviable task of succeeding popular 40-year Mayor Joe Riley, Mr. Tecklenburg has had a contentious relationship with an often recalcitrant council that was intent on testing him. Mayor Tecklenburg also had a steep learning curve and contributed his own lapses of judgment.

Developing a better relationship with the council, which should be easier with three of his critics replaced by newcomers, must be his immediate priority because serious problems such as flooding demand that they collaborate on solutions.

Mr. Seekings, who differed from Mr. Tecklenburg more on his approach than on his policy positions, signaled he was ready to work with the mayor.

“I have a pretty good sense of the city now,” he said. “We’re going to make sure every corner of the city is as good as it can be.”

The mayor’s agenda calls for preserving Charleston’s rich history while navigating the pressures of development. It’s a difficult balancing act, but he kept his promise to tackle hotel development and short-term rentals, two issues that threatened the quality of life for peninsula residents. These tasks were not easily accomplished, and we are encouraged that he will continue to bring together various interests and hammer out solutions to difficult problems.

Mayor Tecklenburg will again make affordable housing a point of emphasis in his second term. His efforts to compile $40 million for affordable housing will help finance 900 homes and apartments, but more is needed.

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Residents can expect the mayor to continue his push for traffic congestion solutions, including mass transit. Winning a grant to help fund the bicycle-pedestrian bridge across the Ashley River was a major achievement for the city.

Mr. Tecklenburg said the city did a racial bias study of the police department because “we acknowledged that we can do better.” At a base level, the city must change some residents’ perception of the police and get more officers into neighborhoods through community policing. We are encouraged by the city’s openness to change and the public engagement that has been a critical part of the process.

Flooding remains the most serious threat to the city, and that is where Mr. Tecklenburg has the heaviest lifting to do. The mayor has facilitated a meaningful conversation on the issue via the Dutch Dialogues and has identified some funding. The city also has a broader understanding of the problem than it did four years ago.

John Tecklenburg cruises by Councilman Mike Seekings in Charleston mayoral runoff

In his second term, Mr. Tecklenburg must move the effort beyond discussions and secure meaningful funding to make significant headway in this area. Gov. Henry McMaster’s push for $10 million for the medical district drainage project was a hopeful sign, as is the Low Battery sea wall project, but the mayor must mine every possible state and federal funding source — and, most importantly, come away with money. Lobbying the state to allow the city to use hotel taxes for infrastructure projects is important, as is pushing for a new cruise ship passenger tax that could address both flooding projects and the city’s longstanding concern over increased tourism.

His ability to make serious strides on this issue will define his tenure as mayor.

Mr. Tecklenburg is committed to keeping the city focused on the much-needed revitalization of West Ashley, including the ambitious plans for the Citadel Mall area.

With four years and many lessons under his belt, Mayor Tecklenburg’s measured and thoughtful approach to problem-solving should help make his second term a success.

After his resounding vote of confidence from voters, Mr. Tecklenburg reassuringly told supporters Tuesday night that he remains focused on improving the quality of life of all residents.

“We’re going to leave Charleston better than we found it.”

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