Stretching from the Peninsula in two directions, both to lower James Island and Berkeley County’s Daniel Island, the City of Charleston’s District 1 has almost been asking for a fight. With the exit of Councilman Henry Fishburne, it’s getting just that.
Realtor Ernie Long and banker Gary White Jr. will face off Nov. 6 for the seat. Both work downtown, but the kick in this race is where they’re coming from. Long lives on the Peninsula, where tourists clog streets and redevelopment is the issue. White lives on Daniel Island, where tourists rarely show up uninvited and development has gobbled up one grassy parcel and marsh view after another.
Long is running on experience, which would seem like a stretch for a political novice, but his public service resume suggests the only thing he hasn’t done is run for office. He’s president of the Charlestowne Homeowners Association and a member of the city’s Tourism Commission. Many citizens can complain, but these roles provides Long with informed complaints. But he’s careful to offer up solutions with his gripes.
When Long saw a lack of enforcement of the city’s tourism ordinance, he suggested the city put a specific officer in charge of enforcing the rules. When cruise ship parking was filling neighborhoods, Long sat down with city and port officials to reach an understanding on limiting the number of ships porting at a given time. When the number of rickshaws became overgrown, Long worked with the mayor to limit the number on the street and reinforce the guidelines.
“You’ve got to have suggestions,” Long says. “You can’t just go in and complain.”
White says he’s running on his energy and excitement about working for Charleston residents.
“Effecting change is about getting involved,” he says. “And I do believe you have to have that energy and enthusiasm to represent District 1.”
“(Downtown residents) have embraced the fact that I’m coming to them and telling them that it’s not us versus them,” he says.
Both candidates say representation is key.
“Once you begin to look at the radar screen and go over to Daniel Island and James Island, you see the common denominator here is representation and the need for enhanced representation,” Long says.
White says he’ll hold quarterly meetings to give residents updates, while constantly updating them with blog posts and e-mails.
As the tourist season grows and grows, Long says that he wants to see a holistic review of the tourism ordinance, from carriages to walking tours. It’ll also be important for the new council member to be a leader in charting the future of the Charleston Market and the continued redevelopment of the Peninsula.
Traffic, noise, and congestion are all persistent issues, but White says that a specific concern he hears is the need for public restrooms throughout the historic district. Folks have had tourists knock on their doors downtown to use their bathroom, he says.
Tourists also need more directional signs, but for residents, White says quality of life is the priority.
“Residents are taking care of the homes tourists come to see,” he says.
On Daniel Island, parks and traffic are the primary concerns, as well as the redevelopment of the port space, Long says.
“The knowns is that the Port Authority wants to see some development there,” he says. “The people on Daniel Island want to see as much green as possible.”
White praised the Daniel Island Co. for its work developing the island and said the major issue for residents is the regional parks promised by the city that have been slow to develop.
“My desire is to make sure the commitments made by the city are fulfilled,” White says.
Both candidates says that traffic is a chief concern and noted the potential redevelopment of the McLeod Village as something that needs to be closely monitored to make sure the roads can handle it.
White says county plans for a roundabout on James Island should be studied further because these particular traffic solutions are a little too complicated for some busy communities.
Affordable housing shouldn’t be mandated in development projects, Long says, but it needs to be a consideration in every project.
“Any development needs to have an affordable housing component mixed up in that, or you are going to run in to a long, lengthy discussion with city council,” he says.
With luring high-paying jobs as a leading issue in his campaign, White also says it’s important to complement that with affordable housing for Charleston’s working class.
“I’ve watched us export all of our brain power,” he says. “People who find themselves having to move to Atlanta or Charlotte. I have three children who I don’t want to come to me and say, ‘I’m leaving because I have to.'”
Any affordable housing program needs to come with training to wean residents off of the government support, White says, with residents of heavily subsidized units getting the training needed to go to less subsidized homes and then move on to full homeownership.
While Fishburne has said he wants to see Fire Chief Rusty Thomas out after the June 18 fire that killed nine firefighters, both candidates said they were hesitant to support that dramatic step yet, each awaiting reports from federal and state investigators before drawing conclusions. Both hoped the city will continue to learn from the fire and seek out national best practices.
Both candidates say they received positive feedback from residents in the other’s home camp. With two very community-minded areas, it’s hard to believe residents in either foxhole are looking across the Cooper River for representation. That means this race may come down to James Island residents who don’t have a choice.
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