It’s hard to believe, but it’s been almost two years since the campaign to become Charleston’s first new mayor in 40 years began. Some names have come and gone (like Mike Seekings and Dick Elliott) and some have stayed around through the entire process (see, William Dudley Gregorie and Leon Stavrinakis). Record-breaking amounts of money have been raised, with that money going to slick websites and television commercials — misguided or otherwise. In short, the professional aspects of politics are serious business.
On the plus side, having a local election build up for this long means the candidates have crafted very serious-sounding answers to the many questions that have been posed to them. And the local press has been very active in getting questions in front of the candidates, whether in the form of the City Paper‘s “After Riley” series or the Post and Courier‘s series of in-depth features with the candidates. So, if you live in the City of Charleston, you probably have all the information you need to make a good choice in November’s election.
Will you choose the candidate who’s going to finish I-526? Or will you choose the one who can get things done? Or the one with a proven track record of success? Or the one that supports small business? Or the one that wants to transform Charleston into Silicon Harbor? Or maybe you want someone who can do all of this and still preserve the city’s history and culture while making the city livable again (and if not livable, at least, presentable)?
Of course, the problem is that all the candidates say pretty much the exact same things. So maybe we need to ask a few more questions. Are you looking for a candidate who can revitalize West Ashley (which probably still comes as a shock to many of the residents of that part of town who already think their little corner of Charleston is already pretty darn vital)? Or a candidate who recognizes that flooding is still a problem? Or one who believes that city police should wear body cams? Or one who recognizes that housing costs too much and wages are too low? Well, they’re all pretty much in agreement there, too, although it’s not really terribly surprising.
Despite a lot of rhetoric about “diversity,” the candidates’ ideas are pretty standard stuff.
What’s missing, it seems, is a focus on some diversity of opinion that might be there if the candidates were spending more time with the people who aren’t already among those doing quite well in the City of Charleston. After all, you can address the problems of the Holy City all day long, but when those problems are just niche pet projects with a fancy website and a non-profit’s name attached to them, what good are they for regular people?
When the City Paper asked about wages and the cost of living in Charleston, not a single one of the seven mayoral candidates made a firm commitment to instituting a living wage. In fact, only City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie mentioned a specific amount in response to a wage question, and, I’m sorry, but $10.60 an hour is not the right answer. And it’s worth noting that Gregorie was only addressing increased wages for city employees and not the vast numbers of people working in hotels, restaurants, and shops in one of America’s most beloved tourist towns.
All in all, the candidates paid a lot of lip service to “good jobs” or “better paying jobs,” but this completely ignores the fact that there will always be jobs that aren’t “good” or even desirable and someone will still have to do them — that is if we want tourists to have clean sheets and the like. But the point is, why shouldn’t those jobs pay a wage that allows someone a level of comfort that so many others take for granted?
Meanwhile, no candidate seems to address in a direct manner the violence that visited both North Charleston and Charleston this summer. Sure, they talk about focusing on minority-owned businesses, but that’s just a small sliver of the Holy City community. What about the people who aren’t small business owners? Aren’t they important?
In an email to me, Black Lives Matter Charleston said they felt they’ve been “patronized and paternalized” in their conversations with the candidates, with the exception of state Rep. Leon Stavrinakas, who hasn’t spoken with them at all. As a result, the folks at Black Lives Matter Charleston are beginning to craft their own political agenda.
I, for one, look forward to seeing what that will look like.