In the race for the Charleston City Council seat from District 3, four candidates have signed on to challenge 16-year incumbent James Lewis Jr. Their concerns for the newly expanded district, which encompasses peninsula neighborhoods west of Interstate 26 and north of the Crosstown Expressway as well as some neighborhoods just west of the Ashley, include crime, flooding, and that classic campaign promise: making sure the neighborhoods get their fair share of services.
The main criticism the challengers have lodged against Lewis is that he is out of touch with neighborhood associations and the workaday needs of his district. Lewis, for his part, relishes his regular walks through the district and describes himself as a “neighborhood-oriented person.”
What to do about the fact that the Crosstown floods at the drop of a hat? How can City Council fight back against crack dealers and arsonists? Here’s where the candidates stand:
James Lewis Jr., the incumbent and a manager at the Meeting Street Piggly Wiggly, was born in Charleston in 1949. His entry into local politics came in the late ’80s, when he spent five years as PTA president at Fraser Elementary School. He ran four times for a City Council seat before finally getting elected in 1995. On council, he takes some credit for reducing crime, calming traffic, and working with nonprofit organizations to build affordable housing.
Community Involvement: “I don’t drive. I walk everywhere in the city.”
Fresh Idea: Lewis has been working with South Carolina State University to use some empty lots at America and Lee streets, which were vacated by the old Cooper River Bridge ramp, for a job and computer training center.
Interesting Claim: “I have one of the best working relationships with City Council, I think, of any council member in the history of Charleston City Council.”
On Flooding: “The Expressway should be a state project because the state built that highway through the city, but nobody wants to deal with it. We’ve been beat up on that issue for years, but we don’t have control over that, and we can’t take local taxpayers’ money and fund that project because the project costs more than the city budget.”
On Cruise Ships: Lewis says he’s not an attorney, but he thinks that cruise ships in the Charleston Harbor are under state authority, not city authority. He also thinks that moving the passenger terminal from Union Pier to the Columbus Street terminal would be too costly to be worthwhile.
On Tourism: “I think we do a good job addressing the tourism industry. I just don’t see where we need to boost it anymore.”
On Bikes: It will be up to County Council, he says, to deal with state government in getting a safe bike route across the Ashley River. The city should still be involved, though, since the relevant bridges and roads are within city limits.
On Crime: Lewis says the police department has called him and a few other council members in the middle of the night to stand and speak to people at crime scenes after downtown murders. Several years ago, he pushed for and got a new loitering ordinance designed to allow police officers to run drug dealers off of sidewalks when they are blocking foot traffic.
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Willard Sheppard believes in the power of neighborhood associations. A retired Air Force member, he served 12 years as president of the Forest Neighborhood Coalition. “The one thing that people liked about me is that I’m not an armchair president,” he says. In 2007, he ran to unseat long-standing Councilman Louis Waring in District 7 and lost.
Community Involvement: Sheppard is a lifetime member of the NAACP and the American Legion. He has worked with voter registration efforts and served as a mentor in Charleston County schools.
Fresh Idea: The police department should have an elected police commissioner, he says, to represent the people’s interests.
Interesting Claim: Sheppard says City Council members tend to wait until election years to get things done. “That’s not the way to do it,” he says.
On Flooding: “If the people want oranges and I’ve got a ton of apples, why should I force the apples down their throat?” Sheppard says. When people living downtown wanted drainage to be fixed on the Crosstown, the city instead moved to beautify the Crosstown. Meanwhile, his neighborhood association’s requests for flooding fixes on residential streets were “beating on deaf ears” at City Council meetings, he says.
On Cruise Ships: “I’m displeased with some people who say they don’t want ships coming into the area when they’re bringing millions and millions of dollars into the community.” He says the city should not try to regulate cruise ships.
On Tourism: “It seems as though we are doing more things for the tourism trade than we are for the residents in the area.” He encouraged the S.C. Aquarium to begin its Dollar Days program after noticing that some people live their whole lives downtown without seeing the city’s best-known tourist sites.
On Bikes: “As far as a bike path is concerned, I say if we can afford to do it, do it.”
On Crime: Sheppard points to involved parenting as a key to academic success, which in turn keeps kids from falling into drug sales and crime. On City Council, he would request that the county require parents to get involved with PTA and student athletics.
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Luqman S. Rasheed runs logistics for his family’s cleaning business, Sparkling Always. Of the candidates, he is most prone to talk about change and the need for unseating longtime incumbents like Lewis. “It’s more than time for change,” he says. “It’s time for our neighborhood and the community to come together.” He also ran for the District 3 seat in 2007.
Community Involvement: Rasheed has served as a member of the North Central Neighborhood Association and a community engagement council member with Charleston Promise Neighborhood. He also works with an after-school learning program.
Fresh Idea: To combat unemployment and give high-school dropouts a second chance, the city could start an on-the-job training program in coordination with Trident Technical College.
Interesting Claim: “James Lewis has done, in the past, a wonderful job — prior to the last election … Now, over the last four years, James Lewis has not done a good job.” Rasheed says he would work to keep his constituents in the loop and consult them for input.
On Flooding: District 3 isn’t getting its fair share of improvements, Rasheed says. He points to poor drainage at the intersections of Rutledge and Simons, King and Simons, and Huger and King streets.
On Cruise Ships: Rasheed says the passenger terminal should stay at Union Pier. Moving the terminal up to Columbus Street would be disruptive to nearby neighborhoods, he says. He thinks City Council has acted within its authority so far in dealing with the State Ports Authority.
On Tourism: “The City of Charleston is doing a great job,” Rasheed says. “I’d just like to see the City of Charleston involve its citizens more and spread the wealth.” He says he would like to see more tourism dollars coming to the midtown section of the city.
On Bikes: “Bicycles, skateboards, and whatever the city can do to improve the safety of a citizen is great. I’m for any and every improvement, because everyone pays tax dollars.”
On Crime: Rasheed says City Council should make sure the police department gets all the new technology it needs. This includes surveillance cameras, which he says could help catch the elusive downtown arsonist(s). He puts faith in Chief Gregory Mullen, saying, “Give him the tools and watch him work.”
Contact: (843) 566-3481 or email@example.com
Wilmot A. Fraser has spent much of his career as a historian and folklorist, teaching African-American studies at Cheyney University and writing a biography of jazz great Dizzy Gillespie. He owns Fraser’s Homestay, a Gullah-themed bed and breakfast on Maple Street that features quilting, basketry, and ironwork by Philip Simmons.
Community Involvement: In addition to advocating for historical preservation causes, Fraser has taken on the Livability Court, which tried to bar him from opening his bed and breakfast. He appealed to a circuit court and won his case.
Fresh Idea: Fraser wants to eliminate “food deserts” on the East Side, where fresh, healthy food is difficult to find. He also wants to introduce organic foods in public school cafeterias.
Interesting Claim: Fraser wonders whether gentrification came at the hands of city officials, who he says did little in the way of ensuring affordable housing and quietly raised SCE&G franchise fees in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
On Flooding: The area around Fraser’s house on Maple Street floods frequently, and he says City Council clearly has not made fixing the problem a priority. “I’m paying stormwater taxes, but I’m getting no stormwater service,” he says. Fraser says the city should look to see what other flood-prone cities, like New Orleans, have done to stop flooding.
On Cruise Ships: While the State Ports Authority has the biggest say-so in the matter of visiting cruise ships, Fraser says the city has a right to put a limit on the number of ships coming into the harbor. “I don’t believe that a city or any governmental entity has to become the thrall of a visiting ship,” he says. Fraser also favors looking at Columbus Street as an alternate passenger terminal site.
On Tourism: “Charleston sells culture, and what we need to do is to utilize every aspect of that culture,” Fraser says. This means doing more to commemorate jazz history, civil rights history, and forgotten Charleston heroes like cell biologist Ernest Everett Just. He thinks the conflict between residents and tourists is a false one and says that tourist sites should be spread around the city rather than concentrated in certain areas.
On Bikes: Fraser says the city and the DOT should continue studying ways to create a safe bicycle route over the Ashley River. “You ought to be able to get around here on a bicycle without endangering your life,” he says.
On Crime: “I believe that drug addiction is primarily a psychological and medical problem that the city, the state, and the federal government will have to soon recognize, not just a criminal justice problem,” Fraser says. “And once we address it in that way, we will begin to come to better solutions.” As for dealing with downtown arson, Fraser says the city should work on fire safety education and encourage people not to keep flammable indoor furniture on their porches. If people still keep couches outside, he says, it should be made illegal.
Contact: (843) 723-3984 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Thompson comes to Charleston by way of Atlanta, where he worked as a police officer and as an administrative assistant to the Fulton County commissioners. A resident of Wagener Terrace, he says his part of town does not get its fair share of road and sewage work.
Community Involvement: Thompson has been a member of the Wagener Terrace Neighborhood Association. He also worked on the election campaigns of former President Jimmy Carter and two former Atlanta mayors.
Fresh Idea: Thompson says taxes are a major burden in District 3, especially on seniors. “I don’t know whether we have anything to do with the millage rate,” he says, “but we can lower it if we do.”
Interesting Claim: Thompson says a network of good-ol’-boy politicians still holds a lot of power in the city. “It’s time people woke up,” he says. “This old good-ol’-buddy system needs to stop.”
On Flooding: Thompson says the city should finish its project to fix flooding on the Crosstown, a road that he calls “a hell of a lot of a waste of money,” and start fixing the drainage in other neighborhoods.
On Cruise Ships: “I haven’t ventured into that. I’m not an elected official yet.”
On Tourism: Thompson says the city needs to focus its resources on things other than tourism, particularly infrastructure improvements in residential areas. “They put cobblestone downtown,” he says. “You know how much money that costs? Cobblestone streets? I think they’re just throwing money up in the air.”
On Bikes: Bicycle safety should be among the city’s top 10 priorities, Thompson says, though he is not certain where it should fall on the list. As for creating a bike route across the Ashley River, he says, “If that’s what people want, then that’s what the government should give them, because they’re taxpayers.”
On Crime: Thompson says the city could encourage the formation of crime watch programs and set up community relations programs to help the police department develop a better relationship with residents.
Contact: (843) 475-2020 or email@example.com.