You don’t have to be told how monumental the 2015 Charleston mayoral race is. After 40 years in office, our beloved mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., will finally step down, and chances are, there will never be another like him in terms of vision, drive, and boosterism. Joe loves Charleston, and Charleston, by and large, loves him back. We at the City Paper have been critical of some of the mistakes that Riley has made in his final decade in office — from his blind loyalty to former Police Chief Reuben Greenberg and Fire Chief Rusty Thomas to his inability to address the town’s flooding woes in more than a half-assed fashion to this year’s late-night moratorium, a reactionary move that does little to solve Upper King’s true problem — the city’s failure to adequately plan for the strip’s F&B explosion after the town’s misguided design district detour. Still, Riley rocks. Hard. Like Metallica at their peak. We’re talking about a Master of Puppets level of badassery.
However, it would be wrong to assume that the next mayor of Charleston will be the beneficiary of such accolades or serve as long as Riley. Like Alabama’s Gene Stallings or Clemson’s Ken Hatfield, whoever wins the mayoral race will always be compared to the great man that came before; no matter how solid their record, they will be viewed as the Not-Joe and, as such, a failure. It’s really a thankless job, and quite likely, a one-term-and-done prospect.
So it’s no small wonder that so many qualified candidates are running for the Holy City’s top spot. Unlike other races, there’s not a loser in the bunch. However, three candidates stand out from the rest, not necessarily for their talents but for their media ubiquity. Of course, we’re talking about Leon Stavrinakis, John Tecklenburg, and Ginny Deerin.
First, let’s look at Stavrinakis. The state representative and former Charleston County councilman is the man to beat in this race, but he can be beat. As much as we might applaud Leon’s years of service in public office, something the other two top contenders do not have, Stavrinakis’ time in the Statehouse was largely indistinguishable from that of a page. His primary achievement was the passage of the so-called Boland Bill, which keeps guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, after a near-shooting at Ashley Hall. The bill was certainly worthy of applause, but there was no doubt that it was a calculated move on Leon’s part to show Charlestonians that he was a leader who cares about his community. However, Stavrinakis was also one of the driving forces behind the proposed MUSC-CofC merger, a move that few wanted and which ultimately failed. Leon was also one of the biggest defenders of current CofC President Glenn McConnell, a Confederate cosplayer who once supported arch-segregationist Maurice Bessinger and fought tooth and nail to keep the Confederate battle flag flying at Statehouse grounds. And don’t even get us started on Leon’s pro-development stance. If Stavrinakis is elected, developers will likely be given more freedom than what they already have. While certain areas are ripe for new development — most notably West Ashley and the upper peninsula — one only has to drive down Meeting Street circa 2015 and marvel at how alien it looks today to get a glimpse of Leon’s Charleston.
And then there’s Leon’s temperament. Notorious for getting into heated Twitter fights, Stavrinakis is a little too thin-skinned to be a mayor. Case in point: his strange reaction to a single “attack” ad from Ginny Deerin. Instead of simply countering Deerin’s claims or ignoring them outright, Leon threw together a press conference in which a series of speakers intimated that Ginny’s ad somehow sullied the names of the Emanuel Nine. Baffling stuff. Even worse, the Stavrinakis campaign team, the very folks that will likely serve as his most trusted inner circle, failed to quash this idea or, worse, introduced it themselves.
Unlike Stavrinakis, Tecklenburg seems to share a similar temperament as Mayor Riley. Like Joe, Tecklenburg is an affable man who strives for a truly positive tone. Of all the candidates, T-Burg is the one candidate most likely to oversee a calm city council and who will face adversity with a smile on his face, not throw a public hissy fit. Tecklenburg will kill them with kindness. As for his experience level, well, he has never held public office. And even one of his primary selling points — that as Riley’s director of economic development he was responsible for the growth of Upper King — is just as much a negative when you consider the city’s failure to adequately plan for the strip’s re-emergence as the city’s most happening night-life district.
Which brings us to Ginny Deerin. Like our man T-Burg, Ginny has never been elected to office. However, that fails to consider, one, her position as Riley’s one-time campaign manager and, two, her executive strengths — she’s the founder of the successful children’s education nonprofit, WINGS for Kids. More importantly, Deerin was the first candidate to present a solid set of ideas instead of simply just getting his or her name out there with a series of photo ops. And at the centerpiece of her campaign, the need to fix Charleston’s transportation infrastructure, which, while mildly excruciating today, is ill-prepared for the coming population explosion. Her plan involves improving our current roads, adding more sidewalks and bike paths, completing I-526, launching a ferry service from Daniel Island to downtown, and improving public transportation. Deerin is also an advocate for more affordable housing in downtown (the F&Bers and hotel workers need a place to live that won’t require long commutes), bringing more parking to the peninsula, making sure that downtown doesn’t become an overdeveloped hellhole (she’s against the current Sgt. Jasper plans), and revitalizing West Ashley. Just as importantly, she stood up to Leon Stavrinakis when he attacked her for running an accurate ad on his voting record and his campaign contributors. Clearly, Deerin is not going to let anything or anyone get the best of her.
However, there is one point that tarnishes her as a candidate: Up until she made the decision to run, Deerin was a Sullivan’s Island resident, albeit one that worked in Charleston and was invested in its success. Today, she rents an apartment in West Ashley. Still, that bit of carpetbaggery isn’t enough to dissuade us from endorsing Ginny Dinny for mayor.
May her short time in office be a productive one.