Riley protege runs small S.C. city

Elise Partin

CAYCE -- A protege of sorts to Charleston Mayor Joe Riley is running this small city, across the Congaree River from the state's sprawling capital city.

Elise Partin, Cayce's first female mayor who was elected to her first full term in November, is the daughter of Barbara Vaughn, Riley's longtime media point person and a key figure in his administration.

Partin, 41, was a pre-teen when her mom went to work for Riley in the early 1980s. She said she has learned from the Charleston mayor's attention to detail and cultivation of the arts and tried to incorporate those community building blocks into her leadership style.

"You don't think most children grow up thinking about city development, about safety or parks or those sorts of things. They should be the things you can count on," Partin said. "I grew up hearing (my mom) talk to the mayor and the director of parks and recreation and to the police chiefs."

She has served as Cayce's mayor since 2008, first filling her predecessor's unexpired term. She won re-election with 65 percent of the vote.

Partin, a graduate of Bishop England, is a married mother of two and an adjunct instructor at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health. Partin moved to the Columbia area when she left home to go to college at USC and has called Cayce home for nearly 20 years. She said she hasn't leaned on Riley's council more than a couple of times, but his influence is inherent to her.

"What he has done in Charleston has been phenomenal," Partin said. "What I've seen and learned from him has been the thought that goes into planning."

But Partin said she hasn't styled her leadership entirely after Riley's, noting that Charleston and Cayce are different places. Charleston is the state's second largest city with nearly 120,000 residents while Cayce ranks 29th with about 13,000 residents.

And Riley wasn't Partin's greatest influence on her civil-minded upbringing. That was her mother, Vaughn.

"One other thing I learned from watching mom work so hard for the city over the years is that it takes a team to make a positive difference in a city," she said. "The city wouldn't be the same without her contribution. It's the same here in Cayce. Though many people, like my mom, prefer to make their difference behind the scenes, their contribution is just as important as mine is."

Likewise, Vaughn is proud of her daughter, one of her three children.

"She's a very, very bright and determined person and I think she's able to absorb a lot of information that's around her," Vaughn said. "And I think, certainly, Joe Riley has set the bar high, but I think Elise is doing what Cayce needs and not trying to emulate what Charleston did."

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.