Article updated March 14 4:08 p.m.
North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, 76, announced last Friday afternoon he would not seek reelection this year after 29 years of service to the city of North Charleston. And now, candidates are lining up to run for the position he’s held since the internet was a baby.
“Serving as the mayor of North Charleston has been the privilege of a lifetime, and I am proud of what we have accomplished together,” Summey said in a statement. “I look forward to serving this great city as a community member, as we all work together to continue to make North Charleston a great place to live, work and play.”
Summey was elected in 1994 as the third person to hold the mayoral office in North Charleston. He won his seventh consecutive reelection in November 2019 against local businessman John Singletary, who is expected to run again.
Several community members and leaders have spoken in reverence to the outgoing mayor’s leadership as he oversaw a period of astounding growth in the Lowcountry, as well as hardships in recent years during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As a lifelong resident of the City of North Charleston, I want to thank Mayor Summey for taking the city to unimaginable heights,” North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess said in a statement. “As the chief of police, I want to thank him for his mentorship and guidance over the years. Mayor Summey provided me the opportunity to serve as the first African American chief of police, for which I am deeply grateful.”
With the mayor’s plan in place, community members and leaders are already looking to what comes next.
“More and more, the greater Charleston region understands that North Charleston is sort of the operational nexus of the Lowcountry,” said Ron Brinson, a member of North Charleston City Council. “We’ve seen the redevelopment of the Park Circle area. We’ve done really well in recent years financially — I can’t remember the last tax increase — we got through the pandemic in really good shape.
“I give Summey a lot of credit for that. Whoever comes next — it’s the old cliche: They have big shoes to fill.”
The coming mayoral election is anticipated to be crowded, with community leaders and locally based politicians having long been considering a bid but awaiting Summey’s official decision. Expected to be other candidates are Charleston County Council member and former chair Teddie Pryor, former North Charleton City Attorney Brady Hair and Burgess.
“This will be one of the most important mayoral races in the city’s history,” said S.C. Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, a North Charleston Democrat. “North Charleston just celebrated 50 years last year, and the next mayor will essentially be tasked with laying the vision for what the next 50 years is going to look like.
“It’s going to be important for that mayor to have leadership ability, for them to be someone the people can look to to step up and lead on day one,” he added. “That’s why I have always considered it — I see myself as someone who can be in that position, but there are a lot of people who can fit that bill.”
Despite having long considered a mayoral bid himself, Pendarvis said Sunday afternoon that he decided not to run this year and would instead continue serving the community through his work at the Statehouse.
“I think our best days are still ahead of us and we can reach them by improving the quality of life in our city through more educational and economic opportunities and a renewed effort to keep our neighborhoods safe,” Pendarvis said in a statement. “It will take a strong leader to get us there and I look forward to working side-by-side with whoever that person may be to make this vision for North Charleston a reality.”
‘There’s a lot at stake’
North Charleston’s method of mayoral election looks different from other Lowcountry municipalities since it uses a plurality system. There are no runoffs, which means whichever candidate gets the most votes on Election Day wins the seat. With so many potential candidates, it’s possible for the next mayor of North Charleston to win by receiving a relatively small portion of the vote.
“It’s archaic,” Brinson said. “I’ve been part of some groups trying to get it changed. We just never have been able to put it over the top. Right now, you could have someone reelected with only 30% of the vote. That’s just not the way our electoral system should work.”
Pendarvis said it’s more important than people realize to not only vote on Election Day, but engage with the election process from the beginning.
“There’s a lot at stake,” he said. “People really need to recognize that and get engaged — bring about the vision you want to see in North Charleston. Don’t let this race go by without you having a say, and that’s not just by casting a ballot.”
Also in November, every North Charleston City Council member is also up for reelection at the same time, and several of the council’s veteran members are expected to retire. “What happens if you come out with a new mayor and no incumbents?” Brinson said. “This defies continuity.
“It’s never cut and dry, clear or easy,” he said. “What I’m hopeful of is that we will have a successful transition, and that may take a couple years. There’s an old axiom that if you don’t manage transition, transition will manage you.
“We need to reboot North Charleston. Our population is getting younger, and that’s a good thing. It’s more diverse, and that’s a good thing. Summey’s legacy is going to serve very well, but we can still get excited about committing to doing new things in new ways, too.”
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