Expect scramble for mayor in 2015

Joseph P. Riley Jr.

Despite his landslide re-election win last week, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley still has no intention of seeking another term.

The prospect of a Riley-less field suggests the likelihood of a wide-open mayoral contest in 2015 -- one that could see twice as many candidates and twice the turnout of last week's election.

Riley said he has no plans to groom a successor but instead will concentrate on accomplishing as much as possible before he leaves office on Jan. 11, 2016.

"I don't think that's practical or really desirable," he said of trying to anoint a successor. "I'm honored to serve the citizens of this city for another four years, but to try to reach beyond that, I don't think is appropriate."

While formal politicking won't begin anytime soon, the informal jockeying already has.

"I think before the champagne bubbles evaporated Tuesday evening, those discussions were already under way," City Councilman Dean Riegel said.

Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon said she's considering a run, and state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, said he has had several phone calls from people asking him to run.

"At this point in time, it's way too premature for me to even think about it," he added. "My eyes are on Columbia right now."

So are the eyes of Democratic state Reps. Leon Stavrinakis and Wendell Gilliard, who also would not rule out a bid.

"I don't plan my life around politics and certainly can't plan something that big that far out," Stavrinakis said, "but it's definitely something I would be interested in."

"Surely, with my background in politics and public service, if the people would want that, then that would be something I would surely consider," Gilliard said. "I like to shoot for the stars."

Two Charleston Republicans -- S.C. Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell -- could vault to front-runner status if they ran, but most expect them to seek to remain in their powerful legislative posts.

Former County Councilman Paul Thurmond said his focus is working hard and taking care of his family, not on what might be his next political step.

"As far as that specific seat, I think Charleston is an absolutely wonderful city and has a tremendous amount to offer," he said.

City Council could produce several candidates. Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, who ran the past two times, said he might try a third time.

City Council members Riegel, Mike Seekings and Aubry Alexander said they could be interested in the race under the right circumstances.

"I think it's really going to depend on what happens in the city in the next few years with our city government," Seekings said.

Alexander said, "I've not made a definite decision. We're four years away, and we're just starting our second term, but my intent is to learn as much as I can about the city and get deeper into the details. ... I'm devoted to this city, devoted to making good decisions."

Former City Councilman Paul Tinkler said he also has been asked to consider running. "It is a long way away, but I have not ruled it out," he said. "I do believe that people are going to start talking in the city to try to identify candidates. If I'm approached about it, I'll certainly engage in those discussions."

John Tecklenberg, a businessman who previously worked for Riley and helped in his re-election bid, said he wouldn't think about running for a few years.

"It's a terrific position to lead such a wonderful city, and I'm sure a lot of people are going to give it consideration. I think that's a very healthy thing," Tecklenberg said. "I would predict it's going to be a big field, and there will be a runoff."

And there could be many other potential candidates who no one is mentioning now. Even when Riley was on the ballot recently, the race has attracted several long shots who got a percent or two of the votes.

While Riley said he won't handpick a candidate for 2015, he won't necessarily remain on the sidelines.

"If there was one candidate that I thought was exceptionally well qualified and a candidate that I thought, you know, had deficiencies that, understanding the job as I know it, would hurt their effectiveness, I may get involved," he said.

"I would think the more likely circumstance is that I will not be substantially engaged. But that remains to be seen."

Mayor Joe Riley has lead Charleston for 36 years, but promises his 10th term would be his last.

"I'm pleased to say I've had a lot of people say, 'Please change your mind. We hope you weren't serious.' " Riley said last week. "There may be some that are uncertain that I really mean it, but I do. I'm very comfortable with that decision, and I think it's the right one for me and for the city."