North Charleston’s first candidate forum this election season turned into a verbal free-for-all Wednesday after an incumbent called out one of her opponents.
For nearly two hours, the forum for contenders for mayor and Council Districts 5, 6 and 10 moved along fairly smoothly as candidates answered questions on topics like forming a police review board, education and zoning.
Then, during her 30 seconds of closing remarks, District 6 Councilwoman Dorothy Williams gestured to challenger Jessie Williams, no relation, who was sitting to her right, as she said, “This gentleman here has no respect. He comes to council, he comes to the committee meetings, he don’t recognize me, he don’t talk to me.”
The comment sparked yelling and angry accusations from the standing-room-only crowd at the Jeanne Batten Recreation Center on Dorchester Road and brought an abrupt end to the forum.
During the shouting, District 5 Councilman Todd Olds filmed the wife of one of his opponents with his cellphone as she pointed a finger in his face and called him pathetic.
The forum, attended by more than 100 people, is one of a series planned by the Charleston County Chapter of the SC Coalition for Voter Participation.
Although longtime Councilwoman Dorothy Williams apologized for her comment as the forum broke up, after the meeting she said she stood by it.
“I didn’t call him nothing bad,” she said. “I just said he’s disrespectful and he is. He’s real mean.”
Both candidates said that small business owner Jessie Williams did not allow Dorothy Williams to speak at a Dorchester Waylyn neighborhood council meeting when he was president.
“She’d come to the meeting and just start speaking and we didn’t even know she would be in the meeting,” he said.
Willie Bruce Heyward also is running for the seat in the Nov. 3 nonpartisan election.
Tension also was high between Stephen Ayer, who served on Council for 14 years, and Todd Olds, who unseated him four years ago in District 5, leading to the taped exchange between Olds and Ayer’s wife, Delores. Sean Middleton, who talked frequently at the forum about racial and economic disparities in the city, is also seeking that seat.
District 10 incumbent Michael Brown and challenger Anjene Davis also attended.
At the beginning of the event, Mayor Keith Summey, who has served as the head of the city for 21 years, said he is not campaigning against his challengers, the Rev. Chris Collins, and businessmen John Singletary and Clifford Smith.
“I’m running for the job,” he said. “If you think I’ve done a good job, then you should keep me there. If you don’t think I’ve done a good job, then you should vote for one of these gentlemen.”
Later, after Singletary said one of the biggest issues in the city is “nepotism, cronyism, regimenting public corruption... What we need in North Charleston is a new administration.” Summey refused to respond, saying, “I don’t want to comment because I’m just tired of listening to an angry man.”
Several in attendance were dissatisfied with the way the forum turned out.
“I’ve only lived in North Charleston for three years, so I was hoping to see mainly who was representing the area where I live, District 5,” said Sabrena Shephard. “There was good back and forth between the candidates and then all of a sudden, this happened.”
Karen Thrower, who was one of the people who spoke out at the meeting, said she found Dorothy Williams’ comment “highly inappropriate. I was extremely disappointed in the way she conducted herself. To go and personally attack someone like that is not right. There was no mudslinging. They stuck to the facts, and then that happened. It was just highly inappropriate.”
Throughout the event, Walter G. Brown Jr., who moderated the event, reminded the crowd to “be civil” and “give respect.”
Afterward, he said, “Overall, we had a good forum. We had excellent turnout. That candidates responded to the questions. The South Carolina Coalition is pleased with what happened. That was just one little incident and these things happen.”
The Coalition is planning to hold another forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Felix C. Davis Center at Park Circle.
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713.
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