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No first-day jitters for Tecklenburg

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It would be easy to say John Tecklenburg’s life is going to change Monday, but that ship sailed a while back.

Already, Charleston’s mayor-elect gets recognized everywhere he goes — people want to stop and shake his hand, get a quick picture or maybe talk a little politics.

He’s a bona fide local celebrity.

It must have been those TV ads, or nearly a year of knocking on doors during the campaign, because since winning the mayoral runoff in November, Tecklenburg’s not exactly been hogging the media spotlight.

He’s been studying, working, sitting through meetings and classes, preparing himself to take the helm of Charleston on Monday. The only person who may be busier than him is his scheduler.

“Since the election, it’s been like drinking from a fire hydrant,” Tecklenburg says.

But none of this appears to have rattled the mayor-elect. He’s taken it all in his usual, amiable way. He’s not nervous or apprehensive, doesn’t have any overwhelming sense that he’s grabbed a tiger by the tail.

No, Tecklenburg says mostly he’s just excited.

Tecklenburg ran a campaign that was very much grassroots, and he feels that getting out and meeting so many people helped him gauge the pulse of the community.

“I took to heart — no pun intended — Mayor Riley’s advice to all the candidates that we should get to know the hearts of all citizens,” he says.

Tecklenburg has been easy to spot at community gatherings and City Council meetings lately. He went to new-mayor school, sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and has been meeting with department heads to get specifics on what’s going on in every corner of city government.

It’s not exactly foreign ground for him. During the 1990s, Tecklenburg was director of the city’s Department of Economic Development at a time when Charleston’s growth was shifting into overdrive. So he knows his way around 80 Broad Street.

“It’s been more like an update rather than starting from scratch,” he says.

In the past month and a half, he’s also spent a lot of time with Mayor Riley, absorbing knowledge and wisdom from his 40 years on the job. And he has been meeting with members of City Council — the people who will have the most impact on anything he does in his new job.

The mayor-elect expects a good working relationship with them, and that’s probably a fair assessment. Because he gets it: the mayor may be the CEO, he notes, but the council sets city policy.

For his first year, Tecklenburg plans to work on a new customer-service line and process to make navigating City Hall easier for folks.

And he wants to focus on improving West Ashley traffic and parks, something near and dear to his heart — and his commute. But that’s not just making good on a campaign promise, that really is one of the biggest problems in Charleston right now. It’s a good place to start.

Tecklenburg says he is lucky, “blessed to have this opportunity,” and in many ways he’s right. He inherits a city that is one of the most vibrant, livable and popular places in the country. But he wisely points out that’s no excuse to kick back and put Charleston on cruise control.

“If you’re not learning and trying to improve yourself, you’re not going anywhere,” he says.

Which sounds like something that someone else we know might say ...

Despite his newfound fame, Tecklenburg may slip into office more quietly than he should.

Although he is Charleston’s first new mayor since 1975, a most newsworthy event, he has the unenviable — and unfortunate — timing of being sworn in on the same day Clemson plays for the National Championship.

Hope the Gaillard has TVs at the inaugural reception.

But that’s not likely to bother Tecklenburg. He knows there will be plenty of attention on his first year in office. He fully anticipates keeping the schedulers busy, not just implementing his ideas but also doing all those things mayors do — the ribbon-cuttings, the civic club circuit, the community meetings, the festivals.

“That’s the fun stuff,” he says.

Yes, but right now it seems like the mayor-elect considers every part of his new job fun.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com

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