Teacher says it's time for new mayor, announces run

Craig Jelks

Leroy Burnell

Middle school social studies teacher Craig Jelks says Charleston Mayor Joe Riley has done a great job, 'and he deserves retirement.'

That's one big reason why Jelks, 29, has decided to enter the race.

'I'm about the same age Riley was when he was first elected,' Jelks said Monday. 'I think having the same mayor for over 30 years doesn't contribute to the greatness of the city.'

Jelks, who taught two years at Sanders-Clyde Middle School downtown before taking his current job at Sangaree Middle School, said he also is running because he thinks the city can and should do more to support public schools

While the Birmingham, Ala., native has not sought public office before, his political experience includes political science degrees from Howard University (bachelor's) and Columbia University (master's), as well as interning with U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Jelks is at least the third challenger to Riley — who is seeking a 10th four-year term.

City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie and author David Farrow also are in the race. The filing period doesn't open until August. The election is Nov. 8.

Jelks said the destiny of a city is determined by the education of its youth, and he said he would seek to improve schools by doing more than paying lip service to education, by serving as a role model and by getting parents more involved. 'The blame game must stop,' he added.

Jelks acknowledged that he is 'the David in this fight,' as Riley already has raised $125,640 and had $82,609 on hand as of early April — before his re- election campaign cranked up.

Gregorie had raised $1,975 at the same point in time, while Farrow had raised $3,780, according to reports on file with the State Election Commission.

Jelks said he realizes he won't be able to raise more than Riley, but he said he would rely on door-to-door campaigning. 'One reason he's been winning so much is he hasn't had a strong opponent, and I aim to change that,' Jelks said.

Riley campaign manager Ginny Deerin said Monday that the mayor takes every election very seriously and knows he needs to work hard to earn every vote, never taking one vote for granted. 'He takes this approach no matter who is in the race,' she said.

Jelks' website is www.craigjelks.com.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.