COLUMBIA — Charleston Mayor Joe Riley beamed Wednesday night as Gov. Nikki Haley honored the longtime public servant during her annual State of the State speech.
Riley, a Democrat wrapping up a celebrated 40-year tenure at the helm of the Holy City, stood, waved and smiled at members of the General Assembly. Riley also served in the S.C. House in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“I know there’s been a lot of chatter about who Charleston’s next mayor will be, but before we get too far down that road, we should take a moment, stop, and appreciate what we have,” said Haley, a Republican. “Here tonight is a man who has built a legacy of service in the Lowcountry and across South Carolina. He has served as the Mayor of Charleston for nearly 40 years and he has helped transform that city into the most popular destination in America, a crown jewel of not just our state, but of our nation. He has decided to step down as mayor, but he will forever be remembered as one of South Carolina’s great gentlemen and devoted public servants. I ask that you join me in welcoming Mayor Joe Riley, and thanking him for his lifetime of service to South Carolina.”
Riley said afterward that it was rewarding to be recognized at the end of a long career.
“It was extremely generous of her,” Riley said. “I was very honored. I love my work. It’s not a job I want to stop but it’s a job that requires complete intensity. ... It’s time.”
Haley’s remarks stand out among a string of accolades Riley has received in recent weeks as numerous contenders line up to replace him.
Riley considered a question about whether being feted brings home that his career is over.
“I’m very proud to be completing my service with people feeling good about my work,” he said after a pause. “It makes me feel I’ve done a good job for the citizens.”
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