The race to become Charleston’s first new mayor since 1975 continues for businessman John Tecklenburg and state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, who bested four other candidates Tuesday.
They now face each other in a Nov. 17 runoff that will determine who moves into City Hall after longtime Mayor Joe Riley moves out.
In unofficial results, Tecklenburg narrowly led Stavrinakis by 37 percent to 36 percent, with 94 of 96 precincts reporting.
“The whole story of this race, according to Leon, thus far was I’m the underdog,” Tecklenburg said late Tuesday, “so for me to be at par — or No. 1 — is a huge accomplishment.”
Stavrinakis told his supporters they all had just been through “the most negative campaign in the history of Charleston,” referring to candidate Ginny Deerin questioning his record on transportation and the gas tax.
“We are still standing, baby,” he said. “One thing you can’t do is drown out the voice of the people.”
Tecklenburg said Tuesday’s vote was a statement that “our quality of life is so critical for our future and that negative campaigning is not what we want to see.”
Stavrinakis said voters now have a choice between someone who is experienced and who knows how to manage growth — and a developer. “He’s a developer,” he said of Tecklenburg.
Tecklenburg recently has worked as a commercial real estate agent, and both he and Deerin have publicly fought against plans to replace the city’s Sergeant Jasper with a new building of a similar height.
Deerin, founder of WINGS for Kids, placed a distant third, despite a campaign that raised more than $800,000.
“What a worthy endeavor this was,” said Deerin, who ran Riley’s last re-election bid. “Thank you so much for all that every one of you did.”
City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie and former Councilman Maurice Washington trailed with about 6 percent of the vote each, while nonprofit director Toby Smith got 1 percent.
Gregorie said he was not surprised by the result, particularly because he decided in June he would not try to raise large sums. He said he would wait until later this week before deciding which, if either, candidate he would encourage his supporters to back on Nov. 17.
“We’re not there yet,’ he said. “I’m not even going to discuss that at this point.”
Smith congratulated Stavrinakis and Tecklenburg and wished all candidates the best in the future. “I had a great time and enjoyed meeting so many new neighbors,” she said.
Stavrinakis’ party at the Town & Country Inn and Suites on Savannah Highway in West Ashley got louder and even more upbeat as the returns came in. Meanwhile, Tecklenburg’s crowd spilled out the doors of the Med Bistro and roared as he announced he’d taken the lead.
Randall Goldman, who works in the city’s hospitality industry, said he’s supporting Stavrinakis because “he has the relationships we need to get the funding to do the true capital investment our region needs.”
He also said the food and beverage industry is facing a staffing shortage. If public transportation were improved, people who live in outlying areas could get downtown for jobs. He thinks Stavrinakis has what it takes to make that happen.
The race has been largely civil, and all candidates vowed to push for completing Interstate 526 — one of the most talked-about issues in the race.
But the most bruising moments came as Deerin and Stavrinakis sparred over his recent vote against raising the state gas tax — and over whether Deerin’s criticism was negative campaigning.
Other than that, most candidates were cordial, even friendly toward each other, possibly because they knew they soon might be attempting to court one another’s supporters.
The mayor’s role is a full-time job that pays $180,000 a year and involves serving as both chair of City Council and administrator of a city workforce with about 1,700 employees.
When the city of Charleston changed its races, it required candidates to get more than 50 percent to win. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, then a runoff is held two weeks later between the top two vote-getters.
Tuesday’s turnout was more than 26 percent — more than the last mayoral election in 2011 but not as high as some earlier city votes.
Charleston voters also decided who will fill the city’s six odd-numbered council seats, where the incumbents were met with mixed results as they sought another four-year term.
In District 1, incumbent Gary White, a business banking manager, likely will face attorney Shawn Pinkston in a Nov. 17 runoff.
In District 3, incumbent James Lewis, a retired department manager for Piggly Wiggly Inc., likely will face Jimmy Bailey, a community management executive, in a Nov. 17 runoff.
In District 5, incumbent Marvin Wagner, president and owner of M.D. Wagner Inc, had a narrow lead over attorney Brian Byrd.
In District 7, incumbent Keith Waring, a financial advisor, defeated Joe Johnston, a retired city firefighter.
In District 9, challenger and lawyer Peter Shahid defeated incumbent Aubry Alexander, a real estate broker, by a 52-48 margin.
In District 11, incumbent Bill Moody, a CPA, cruised past Chris Cannon, owner and operator of Mister Charleston Tourist Services.
Reach Robert Behre at (843) 937-5771 or at twitter.com/RobertFBehre. Reach Diane Knich at (843) 937-5491 and on Twitter @dianeknich.