Congratulations, John Tecklenburg, you will go down in history as the man who had to follow Joe Riley as mayor of Charleston.
No pressure or anything.
After 40 years of Riley leadership, you inherit a city that is clicking on all cylinders. City government is flush, hasn’t raised taxes in years, and most departments are doing quite well these days.
In some ways, it’s a dream job — maybe the best in politics. All you have to do is keep it in the road and all is well. But the temptation will be to make your own mark; that’s understandable.
But don’t try too much.
The tightrope you have to walk is doing things similar to the way Riley has operated without imitating him. For instance, Riley was a master at juggling grand projects — in fact, he’s still shepherding the African-American museum, and just finished a fabulous renovation (rebuild) of the Gaillard.
Unless you can actually finish 526, it’s probably best to just focus on quality of life issues for the foreseeable future. It’s not as sexy as Waterfront Park, but it’s what Charleston needs right now.
No one will think worse of you for not coming up with the 2016 version of Charleston Place.
When Riley took office in 1975, he kept on most of the staff from the Palmer Gaillard/Arthur Schirmer administration. It was a smart move.
He knew he needed to surround himself with people who understood how the city worked. He replaced the people who didn’t mesh with his style over time, and through attrition.
You would do well to follow suit, and not just hand out jobs to campaign workers or friends.
Just look at this lineup: Police Chief Greg Mullen is great, as is Fire Chief Karen Brack. They are your most high-profile people, and they deserve to stay on.
But don’t forget that Laura Cabiness, director of Public Service, has done a good job implementing an overhaul of the city’s old drainage system and Geona Shawn Johnson does admirable work in Housing and Community Development. And Steve Bedard, the chief financial officer, is a must-keep.
It will be tempting to make Traffic and Transportation chief Hernan Pena a scapegoat for traffic woes, given how that was a central issue of the campaign, but it’s not his fault 50 people move into the area every day — and clog up our roads.
Give him the latitude and the resources he needs to revamp the grid.
And if you find yourself at odds with City Council more often than Riley that’s because, well, you’re the new guy now.
Show yourself to be a consensus builder and you will do fine. Charleston City Council is probably the most stable government body in the county.
OK, maybe that’s damning by faint praise. You get the idea.
The campaign is over, and you won’t face re-election for four years, so make the most of the honeymoon.
That may mean jettisoning some of the stuff your supporters have tried to drag you into. The Sergeant Jasper redevelopment, while unpopular among downtown residents, could turn into a long, costly legal battle — one the city will probably lose — if you don’t find a way to get consensus.
And as for the ethics stuff, Charleston city government is one of the most ethical around. There are more important fish to fry.
Also remember that exit polling on Election Day two weeks ago showed that only 4 percent of voters give a hoot about cruise ships. Don’t get mired in that pluff mud.
But tourism is a big concern. As early as the 1970s, Riley was constantly considering new rules on the industry — some of them worked, others didn’t. The balance, which the mayor always strived to achieve, is finding ways to make the lives of residents better without putting people out of business.
Keep that up.
The main thing here is to become a student of history — Charleston’s favorite subject. Riley succeeded not by always doing the most popular thing, but by doing what he thought was right. That’s called leadership, something you don’t often see in these days of pandering politics.
But Riley was re-elected nine times, so it’s a safe bet that voters respect and reward true leadership.
You will not be in that office 40 years. In all likelihood, no one will ever again.
In fact, for years conventional wisdom has held that the person who followed Riley was destined to be a one-term mayor.
You have four years to prove that wrong, Mayor Tecklenburg. The best way to do that is to not upset our very attractive apple cart.
Charleston is rolling along pretty well. Let’s keep it that way.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com