Last week voters in two Charleston County towns spoke clearly about the direction of future development. The town of Hollywood elected its first black female mayor and North Charleston re-elected Mayor Keith Summey. Both candidates ran on platforms dominated by issues of development almost opposite from those of their opponents.
In Hollywood, Jackie Heyward, a first-term town councilwoman, ousted two-term incumbent Mayor Gerald Schuster. Heyward became only the second black person to head the town’s administration and its first black female. About 20 years ago the town elected its first black mayor, Herbert Gadsden, after a series of annexations created a black majority in the town.
Schuster slipped into office eight years ago when then councilman John Dunmeyer split the black vote, allowing Schuster a narrow victory. Four years ago Schuster again narrowly defeated controversial black councilman Fred Middleton.
Middleton was part of a four-councilmember bloc many voters felt had needlessly stagnated the town’s administration by challenging almost every initiative from Schuster. The town’s voters ousted two other members of the bloc — Ned Middleton and Dunmeyer — to create a more homogenous council during the past four years. However, Schuster’s pro-annexation and development initiatives continued to alienate voters who favored maintaining Hollywood’s traditional rural environment.
The town’s black majority and opposition to Schuster’s pro-development stance gave Heyward, a Hollywood native and retired Baptist Hill High School teacher, some two-thirds of the ballots cast in the June 12 elections.
Having grown up in the community and taught at its high school, from which she also graduated, gave Heyward the advantage of being more familiar to voters, said Heyward, who owns a Charleston taxi company with her husband. Her family’s insistence on living in the community despite the opportunity to live in a more urban setting also convinced voters of her commitment to maintaining Hollywood’s rural atmosphere, she said.
Heyward said becoming the town’s first black female mayor may be significant in the town’s history, but more important is the opportunity that she has to lead the town toward more conservative development initiatives in contrast to the previous administration’s high density initiatives. Her management abilities and dedication to the town are added bonuses, she said.
North Charleston’s Hillery Douglas also set a goal for conservative development in his challenge to three-term incumbent Summey. Douglas challenged the mayor on what he saw as unrestricted development that has nearly doubled the city’s population since Summey took office in 1994. Another attack was launched against the Summey administration’s posture on crime. North Charleston is rated the nation’s 12th most dangerous city.
Summey won about two-thirds of the votes cast June 14, but his victory may not have been as much an endorsement of Summey’s administration as errors in Douglas’ campaign strategy, according to some Douglas supporters. A three-term member of Charleston County School Board, Douglas may have depended too heavily on voters’ knowledge of his work and time on the board.
After waiting until only 60 days before the election to announce his candidacy, Douglas didn’t allow himself enough time to work the neighborhoods, said resident Bernardo Paul.
“Douglas depended on people knowing him from the school board. But even after he announced late that he was running for mayor, he still didn’t put on an aggressive campaign. Douglas’ failure to get the word out in the black community and his nonchalant campaign cost him the election,” Paul said.
Summey has substantial support from developers and others in the business community, boasting the highest retail sales in the state, but many among the city’s 53 percent black majority have been dissatisfied with the violent crime in their communities that gave the city the state’s high municipal murder rate and the development that’s displacing many of those communities. But those concerns weren’t enough to turn the elections, giving Summey four more years to correct the ship on violence and continue to charter his course on the city’s growth.