Joe Riley, the only mayor most Charlestonians have ever known, handily won re-election Tuesday to a fresh four-year term that he says will be his last.
Riley received more than 67 percent of the vote, swamping his four opponents and assuring he will keep the full-time job that city voters first gave him in 1975, according to complete, unofficial results.
Riley gave a victory speech Tuesday night, well before complete results were in, as most initial precinct tallies showed him with a commanding edge over his closest opponent, City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie.
“I think it’s safe to say that this campaign is cruising to victory,” he told more than 100 jubilant supporters at Jason’s Deli in West Ashley.
Riley repeatedly used the “cruising to victory” phrase, a not-so-subtle reference to the city’s heated and ongoing debate over cruise ships. Riley has defended the cruise industry and said the city is doing enough to regulate it.
Opponents, including some downtown neighborhood and nonprofit groups, disagreed, and some of them poured money into Gregorie’s campaign and possibly into a separate political committee, Citizens for a Greater Charleston, that mailed many pro-Gregorie, anti-Riley fliers.
A recent federal court ruling means such groups can raise unlimited amounts of money for political campaigns without disclosing donors’ identities.
But Riley said those mailings backfired.
“The people of Charleston ... spoke to that secret committee, spoke to those scared fatcats, spoke about evasion and skirting ethics laws, spoke about filthy dirty campaign tactics, big money, and the people of Charleston said we do not want this in Charleston. This has no place here.”
Gregorie, who had about 27 percent of the vote, said Tuesday he still was waiting more complete results.
“A sizable number of precincts are still not there,” he said around 9:15 p.m. “So you can’t make any calls until that’s done.”
Asked whether the Citizens for a Greater Charleston ad blitz had helped or hurt his bid, Gregorie said he thought Riley had used it to his advantage.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and a longtime political ally of Riley, left recorded messages for some voters this week, saying, “The Tea Party crowd are causing as much trouble in Charleston as they are in Washington. ... This year, they’re trying to defeat Joe Riley.”
“If there was any backlash it was a backlash based on the mayor’s spin skills,” Gregorie said of the committee’s work. “You can’t take that from him.”
Author David Farrow had about 3 percent of the vote, and school teacher Craig Jelks had about 2 percent, according to unofficial results. Restaurant manager Joshua R. Kennedy received 1 percent.
Riley had raised more than $433,737 for his bid, eight times more than Gregorie’s $52,964. The salary for the mayor’s job is currently $162,816.
Riley had campaigned on his recent record, noting violent crime had dropped sharply in recent years, while the city received a coveted AAA credit rating and had opened new parks and other municipal facilities.
Also, the city recently was recognized as having the nation’s greatest “brain gain” and beating out San Francisco as the nation’s top tourist destination in Conde Nast readers’ survey.
Riley had vowed to finish a $142 million makeover of the Gaillard Auditorium, continue work on a $154 million fix for flooding around the City Market, Charleston’s hospitals, Burke High and the Crosstown Expressway, and more.
“My commitment is this,” Riley told supporters Tuesday, “we will make these next four years together, the best, the most productive, the most creative years in our city’s history.”