Legacies are important to great men. They are not for the individual that passes on. They are for the family, friends, and community they leave behind. Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. is no different.
Riley’s run as the leader of the Holy City has been legendary. He will be remembered as one of the greatest mayors in modern history. But without significant accomplishments in the African-American community, his legacy will be tarnished, blemished if you will.
Mayor Riley won by a landslide this past Election Day, but his numbers in the African-American community have continued to slide due to the continued gentrification of black neighborhoods and a lack of progress in the areas of job creation and business development in the black community. This does not bode well for Mayor Riley’s legacy.
However, I believe that in his final term, Riley needs to re-energize the friendship between himself and the African-American community. After all, the black community has served as one of the cornerstones in Riley’s effort to rebuild Charleston and return it to its former glory.
This is the term the mayor gets to finish what he started. One way that Riley can accomplish this is to focus on economic development efforts within the black community, particularly as it relates to the city’s Minority Business Enterprise office and African-American tourism development.
Without increasing taxes or creating new programs, the mayor can do much to facilitate an increase in minority-owned businesses within the city limits. The Minority Business Enterprise office under the direction of Theron Snype has made progress in getting more minority construction firms work on city-sponsored projects. The Gaillard Center renovations are an opportunity to take that progress even further, as is the redevelopment of the Neck area and Union Pier. A proposed project on the land encompassing the old Cooper River Bridge will also provide chances as well. Maybe a group of African-American developers will respond to the city’s request for proposals about how to divvy up the land. Riley can advocate for the allocation of more Community Development Block grants, S.C. Department of Transportation mitigation funds, recovery funds from the MBE’s Office Grant Program, and the Local Development Corporation’s Revolving Loan Fund.
And what mayor is better suited to lead a growth initiative aimed at developing an important aspect of the local tourism industry — African-American tourism? Riley can work to implement a public-private strategy for the development of the proposed African-American museum. The mayor can also champion the study, marketing, and promotion of the African-American niche by allocating funds through Tax Accommodation Grants and increases in TAG allocations to cultural art groups like the Avery Research Center, Art Forms and Theatre Concepts, and others offering programming for visitors and residents. The Local Development Corporation can target a percentage of its funds to businesses catering to this niche. All of this is within the scope of what Riley is already doing, like the Old Slave Mart Museum and the basket weavers in the City Market.
This might sound like an aggressive plan for the mayor, but it can be accomplished in his final term. Riley can heal old wounds, provide hope, and cement his legacy by providing a vision that will create wealth through jobs and new business development in some of Charleston’s most underdeveloped communities. But it is going to take unity to get this accomplished. Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie must maintain his critical eye, but he must also work with the mayor in accomplishing said economic agenda. The addition of Keith Waring to the City Council is a tremendous value to the African-American community due to his experience in the private sector and with economic development issues. All these factions must work together in making Mayor Riley’s final term one in which significant accomplishments in the African-American community are finally made.