A victory speech promising “retribution” by North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey on Tuesday has sparked anger from leaders in the black community.
Summey, who won by a nearly 2-to-1 margin over his closest challenger, said at his party Tuesday at the Felix Davis Community Center, “It was a rather nasty election and I will not forget the nastiness and there will be some retribution in the future.” On Thursday, Summey, who has been mayor of the state’s third-largest city for 21 years, conceded that he didn’t choose his words wisely.
“By retribution I mean that we are going to make sure we do what needs to be done in the communities that need it,” he said. “Don’t sit here and fight us in trying to make communities better. If I have a chance to do something in your neighborhood and you’re going to resist and I’ve got another neighborhood that’s willing to work with me, I’m not going to waste my time with you.”
But Ed Bryant, president of the NAACP’s North Charleston chapter, said leaders in the black community believe the comment was a threat. “I’m not buying that and no one else does either,” he said.
“Anytime an elected official comes out with a comment like that, it’s totally unacceptable,” Bryant said.
The Rev. Joe Darby, a vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP, called the statement “irresponsible for an elected official.”
“My definition of retribution means I’m going to get back at somebody,” Darby said.
Charleston Branch NAACP president Dot Scott said comments like Summey’s on Tuesday can intimidate citizens and prevent them from speaking out.
“We wonder why people live in fear. He picks the people who go along with what he wants to do. Does he get a bye that he can govern with intimidation? This is your mayor that says that,” Scott said.
Summey had three challengers for his job this go-round, all African-Americans: the Rev. Chris Collins, businessman Clifford Smith and former businessman John Singletary.
While Collins and Smith ran low-key campaigns, Singletary was more aggressive, accusing Summey of giving political favors to friends and family members and publicizing a sexual harassment lawsuit filed — and dropped — against Summey in 1999.
In official results, Summey received 6,408 votes to Singletary’s 3,365. Collins took 577 and Smith 218.
“This young man got over 3,000 votes,” Bryant said. “That’s more than anybody’s gotten in the last three of four elections (against Summey). It represents a part of the constituency that felt that he wasn’t doing a very good job. It’s a significant number of people that he needs to pay particular attention to and listen to specifically to make him a mayor of all citizens.”
Singletary’s challenge was coupled with the April shooting of Walter Scott, a black man, by a white North Charleston police officer, and the city’s $6.4 million settlement with the Scott family in October.
“Let’s just face the facts: This is the time that I probably would have been the most vulnerable and it didn’t pan out,” Summey said. “I think people realized that we did everything that we could to take care of the issues. We were honest and I think ran a positive campaign.”
Singletary, who was convicted in his absence in 2010 of soliciting a prostitute, filed a federal lawsuit the day before the election claiming that Summey, Police Chief Eddie Driggers, The Post and Courier, WCSC and others defamed his “outstanding reputation” and civil rights during the campaign.
His request for a temporary restraining order was denied when a judge ruled that “Regardless of whether (Singletary) was or was not convicted of prostitution, given the records of the City of North Charleston Municipal Court, (he) has not established that he is likely to succeed on the merits” of his claim.
“I can assure you that people like him won’t be welcome in my office,” Summey said. “I will not have anything to do with the folks that are so negative about our community.”
After a brief vacation, Summey plans to get back to work.
“We’ve got a lot of projects that we have started that, of course, we want to bring to completion,” he said. That includes new fire stations, senior centers, the redevelopment of Shipwatch Square and other new developments.
And he may run again in 2019.
“This (election) invigorated me,” he said. “It got me really thinking I need to stay longer.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at (843) 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.