In the Charleston City Council race for the redrawn District 5, a talkative small business owner faces off against a Baptist pastor of few words. Both are concerned about traffic and development in their district, which encompasses parts of Johns Island and the westernmost portions of West Ashley, but neither has much to say about City Council’s most prominent issues: bicycle lanes and cruise ship regulation.
The Rev. Michael Ray Mack, who answered all of the City Paper‘s questions in under 20 minutes, is the pastor at the Resurrection Full Gospel Baptist Church on Johns Island and has served as chairman of Apple Charter School, vice chairman of the Franklin C. Fetter Health Center, and as a member of the Charleston County School District’s Constituent District 9. He wants to attract more commercial development to the island and improve traffic flow and road safety in the district.
Marvin D. Wagner, who answered the same list of questions in 56 minutes, is the owner of M.D. Wagner, Inc., an executive tax and bookkeeping company in West Ashley. He spent 32 years as a civil servant, earning Meritorious Civilian Service Awards from the Navy and Air Force and retiring as resource management flight chief at the Charleston Air Force Base. He also used his accounting experience as an adjunct professor at Trident Technical College for 20 years. He wants government to be smaller and more efficient, and he sees Johns Island and the outskirts of West Ashley as the next frontier of Charleston’s expansion.
“I have watched this whole thing grow up around me, and then we woke up one morning and said, ‘Hmm, maybe we need some roads,'” Wagner says. “I would think that we need to be a little more structured and make sure the infrastructure is there before we build just to start building.” He says the duration of his five-mile commute from home to office has tripled over the last five years, and he adds that while new housing developments come with well-planned sidewalks, wastewater systems, and streetlights, the streets connecting them to the rest of the city often do not.
Mack, too, sees a need for infrastructure improvements, particularly on Maybank Highway. The road narrows from four lanes to two as it crosses onto Johns Island. As he understands it, the original issue preventing a four-lane highway on that part of Johns Island was a tree that people didn’t want to cut down.
“I think that if a tree has to be cut down for safety on the highway, then so be it,” Mack says. If elected, he also says he will push for updates at Johns Island Park — “That park over there sucks,” he says — and the establishment of satellite city offices where Johns Island residents can pay their taxes and utility bills. Many Johns Island residents do not own cars, he says, and the trip to the peninsula to run simple errands is an unnecessary burden.
When it comes to the city’s budget, Wagner says he thinks that the city has done a good job for the most part in eliminating unnecessary spending, but that he would bring “new eyes and new dedication” to the search for waste. When it comes to environmental issues and recycling, he says there is only so much the city can do — “You cannot legislate at any level how people act,” he says. In Wagner’s eyes, the city’s hands are also tied in regards to regulating cruise ships. “The city cannot do it by itself,” he says, noting that the state and the Ports Authority are major players, too. He does, however, say that moving the passenger terminal from Union Pier to the Columbus Street Terminal is “probably a good solution.”
Mack, meanwhile, says he does not have a stance on cruise ship regulation yet. “I’m not there yet. I don’t have my hands on it,” he says. “I think once I get elected and get to the table and do my assessment, then I’ll be able to give my opinion.” Similarly, on the issue of improving bicycle safety, he says he doesn’t have enough data to take a stand on issues such as creating a bicycle lane across the Ashley River. “I do believe that bicycles should be safe on highways and that they should have their own lane,” he says.
Wagner, too, confesses ignorance on the topic. “That would be something we would need to work at,” he says. “Somebody a lot smarter than me is going to have to figure that out.”
Both candidates say they support farmers on Johns Island, but Wagner says the city cannot keep a family from selling its farmland to developers. Mack says he will take a more active approach to keeping farmers on their land. “I will not stand by and let the farmers be run off of Johns Island,” Mack says. “As long as I’ve got a voice and a breath, farming will always be a part of the culture of Johns Island.”
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