Vote for change

Children returning home from school wave and yell congratulations to Awendaw Mayor-elect Sam Robinson as he walks from Town Hall to his election office on Doar Road. Residents asked Wednesday about their reasons for backing who they did said it was about

Grace Beahm

AWENDAW -- The mayoral race here between longtime incumbent William Alston and challenger Samuel Robinson had been portrayed as a battle over how this rural town should grow.

But to residents going about their daily routines Wednesday, Robinson's historic but narrow victory Tuesday night was a bit more complicated than that.

Some said they voted for Robinson not because he would curb growth but because they were tired of the incumbent.

They cited the town's unfinished water system, its high property tax rate and a perception that the town would not annex residents who might vote against Alston at the polls.

That would explain why voters rendered a split decision. While Robinson narrowly won, voters sided with three of four Town Council candidates Alston had backed.

One thing is clear: The town's electorate was exercised. Turnout approached 70 percent, about the same as in last year's presidential election.

Of 989 registered voters, 680 cast ballots. The results are scheduled to be certified today, and Robinson and the council members are expected to be sworn in at 7:30 tonight at Town Hall.

Ken Daniels, husband of Town Councilwoman Nell Daniels, was removing Robinson's campaign signs near Town Hall on Wednesday morning and said growth wasn't the only issue at stake.

"People are paying taxes, and we can't account for any services or anything in return," he said. "The town collects money, pays for fire protection and keeps the difference."

Arnold B. Jackson, who was working on his tractor just down Doar Road from Town Hall, said he realizes the town won't remain the quiet place it is today, but he said he voted for Robinson because he is expected to annex area residents before undeveloped tracts.

"He's going to get some houses into the town," Jackson said. "That's what you need first, then go after the dead (undeveloped) land."

Isiah Manigault, 54, said he voted for Robinson, even though he would like to see growth, including grocery stores, near his home on U.S. Highway 17.

"I want to see the town take off and see some type of progress here," he said.

"Mr. Alston has been in the office for a number of years with no results that I could see. ... We still have to go all the way to Mount Pleasant to make something happen."

Kieran and Barbara Mays, who moved to Awendaw 15 years ago, said they voted for Robinson and his slate of candidates not only because they were concerned about growth but also because they had questions about their increased taxes and how money for the town's water system has been spent. There is no pipe going by their house.

"Where did our water money go?" he said.

"Down somebody's toilet," she said.

Robinson said Wednesday that his No. 1 priority will be investigating the fiscal condition of the town and its water system. Despite having served on council, he said, "I really don't know what the condition of the finances are."

Robinson said he also would seek unity after the hard-fought election.

Asked what message he thought the voters sent Tuesday, Robinson said, "I got a message that: one, they wanted change; two, they wanted change especially at the top; and three, they understand that growth in and of itself is not bad but that any growth must be in harmony -- that is the key word, harmony -- with what they love."

When Alston was asked the same question, he said, "I have my own feelings about that, but I'm not at liberty to share them right now. There are some things I have to look into before I speculate further."

Alston had painted the election as a referendum on who would control the town, saying a Robinson win would put the Coastal Conservation League -- a nonprofit environmental advocacy group -- in charge.

The Coastal Conservation League could not legally get involved in the race, but its director, Dana Beach, said Wednesday he was very pleased that Robinson won.

"I think the issue is about control," Beach said. "It's about whether developers who don't live in South Carolina control the future in the town or whether the folks in Awendaw actually have the major say in what the community becomes. And that I think was the referendum that Sam Robinson won."

Meanwhile, the special election to fill Robinson's Town Council seat could determine if the new mayor has a working majority or must earn support from the town's old guard.

Filing for the vacated council seat runs from Nov. 20-30, and voters will make their choice on Feb. 2.

"Obviously, there is going to be a continued discussion, as there should be, about what is right for Awendaw, how big it should become or not," Beach said, "but I think the clear directive that was given yesterday is that this massive annexation and development agenda that the former mayor pursued is not one that the majority of the town favors."

In Awendaw's last municipal election -- the November 2007 contest in which Robinson and Daniels beat incumbents Delores Cooper and Jeffrey Coan -- about 358 people voted, less than half the number who turned out this time.

By the numbers

Awendaw had the best voter turnout Tuesday for Charleston County's municipal elections:

Election Turnout

Awendaw 68.8% (680 of 989 registered voters)

Rockville 50.4% (61 of 121)

Isle of Palms 46.3% (1,539 of 3,324)

Seabrook Island 43.7% (609 of 1,393)

Mount Pleasant 29.5% (13,147 of 44,607)

Charleston District 8 23.0% (1,268 of 5,508)

Ravenel 19.3% (247 of 1,283)

Charleston District 12 9.7% (710 of 7,302)

Charleston District 10 8.0% (676 of 8,401)

Charleston District 2 7.1% (445 of 6,290)

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771 or rbehre@postandcourier.com.