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Charleston County Council election could prompt new direction with Summey, Rawl leaving

The November election could bring a shift in direction for Charleston County government because two long-serving and influential members of County Council are not seeking re-election.

Council Chairman Elliott Summey and Councilman Vic Rawl, who has also served as chairman, have been on council since 2008. Summey, the son of North Charleston's mayor, is now running the Charleston airport and Rawl, a former judge, is retiring.

The council's decisions ripple across all of Charleston County, determining which roads get built or widened, how garbage and recycling are collected and disposed of, how a potentially $130 million affordable housing fund will be managed, and how unincorporated areas will develop and grow.

Four of the nine council seats are up: the two that Summey and Rawl are vacating, one where Brantley Moody is facing a third-party challenge as he seeks re-election to a second four-year term and one where Henry Darby is unopposed in his bid for a fifth term.

Charleston County residents only vote in a council election if they live in one of the districts on the ballot this year -- Districts 3, 4, 6 and 7. Some of the oddly drawn districts cover wide-ranging parts of the county.

The District 3 seat Summey is leaving, for example, runs from Charleston Southern University down S.C. Highway 52, through Park Circle, then to the Charleston peninsula, then crosses the river to Mount Pleasant, running up to S.C. Highway 41.

Here's a look at who's running:

Council District 3

Running for the seat Summey is vacating is former councilman Republican Joe McKeown, 57, of North Charleston, who is U.S. Sen. Tim Scott's executive director for South Carolina. McKeown resigned his previous County Council seat in 2010 shortly after being re-elected to work for Scott in Washington, and later returned to the state.

charleston county council candidate joe mckeown

Joe McKeown. Provided

"I’ve missed serving and I feel like I could bring value," said McKeown, a self-described budget hawk who hopes to be involved with the county's difficult upcoming budget discussions.

Also running is Democrat Rob Wehrman, 32, an attorney in the county Public Defender's Office who lives in North Charleston. A Seneca native who moved to the Charleston area five years ago, after launching his legal career in New York City, Wehrman is seeking public office for the first time.

Rob Wehrman (copy)

Rob Wehrman. Provided

“I was moved by a lot of what I’ve seen in my job, and I’ve always been interested in public service," said Wehrman, who — noting that North Charleston has one of the nation's highest rates of evictions — hopes to be involved in the county's plans for affordable housing. 

Both men support a ballot referendum to fund affordable housing efforts by increasing the property tax.

“This needs to be done, and it needs to be done the right way," said McKeown, who has also served on Mount Pleasant Town Council and the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission.

Both candidates support the extension of Interstate 526, though Wehrman has concerns that the price tag could grow and crowd out other worthy projects.

“How the country prioritizes infrastructure projects is obviously going to feed into development," said Wehrman. “The County should also work to discourage growth in flood-prone areas, shifting development to areas that are less vulnerable to flooding and sea-level rise.”

Council District 6

The contest for the seat serving western and northwestern Charleston County — parts of West Ashley, North Charleston and Lincolnville — has three candidates: Republican Darryl Ray Griffin, Democrat Kylon Jerome Middleton, and Libertarian Melissa Couture.

The major party candidates, Griffin and Middleton, are a White shipping company CEO and a Black church leader and social activist. Both are campaigning on issues related to making Charleston County a more inclusive and racially equitable place. Both live in subdivisions near Bees Ferry Road in West Ashley.

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Darryl Ray Griffin, Republican candidate for Charleston County Council District 6. (copy)

Darryl Ray Griffin. Provided

“I just feel that Charleston County has become a place where a lot of people are being left behind," said Griffin, 55, whose son is Charleston City Councilman Harry Griffin. "I just want to be a voice for the forgotten, the people who don’t have the clout."

Griffin said his waterfront company Neal Brothers has for 15 years had a policy of giving formerly incarcerated job applicants a chance, and now "20 or so people who have been to prison work at Neal Brothers."

Middleton, 48, is senior pastor at Mount Zion AME Chuch on the Charleston peninsula, and led the city's Illumination Project aimed at improving relations between the police and the community. Previously, he was a teacher and school administrator.

Kylon Jerome Middleton (copy)

Kylon Jerome Middleton. Provided

“The county needs leadership, and I believe it needs strong, moral leadership," said Middleton. "Not in the sense of getting into people’s personal ideology, but in terms of justice, fairness and equitable leadership."

He said, for example, that the county must pay attention to communities that lack places to shop for healthy food, and consider where funds are spent to preserve green space and create parks.

Both men support the completion of Interstate 526, and both have concerns about a plan to widen S.C. Highway 41 to five lanes through the Phillips Community in Mount Pleasant.

Couture, 39, of North Charleston, is running on a less-regulation, lower-tax platform.

libertarian candidate melissa couture

Melissa Couture. Provided

“Really, I think everyone understands what the problems are — traffic, flooding and cost of living — but I haven’t heard anyone with solutions," she said.

Couture is jointly campaigning with Libertarian Sean R. Thornton, who is challenging Councilman Moody in the District 7 West Ashley council race.

"Kiss central planning goodbye and say hello to the Libertarian Party," their website proclaims.

Districts 4 and 7

Brantley Moody, Ruth Jordan to face off in the fall (copy) (copy)

Brantley Moody. Provided

Brantley Moody, a Republican, is seeking re-election to a second term representing District 7.

This district covers much of West Ashley. There's no Democrat on the ballot, but Moody faces a challenge from Libertarian Sean R. Thornton.

libertarian candidate sean r thornton

Sean R. Thornton. Provided

In District 4, covering parts of North Charleston and the Charleston peninsula, Henry Darby is running unopposed for re-election.

Charleston County Council members serve on a part-time basis and each member receives an annual salary of $20,738. The Council Chairman, elected by other council members, receives $26,142.

Reach David Slade at 843-937-5552. Follow him on Twitter @DSladeNews.

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