“Obama is elevating the political rhetoric. He’s elevating our party.”

Congressman Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., giving the first of many superdelegate endorsements that sent Obama over the top June 3 to clinch the Democratic nomination. Source: NBC’s Today.

Mayor: Department Failings Fanned Sofa Store Flames

Mayor Joe Riley for the first time last week admitted the fire department’s failings with training and equipment may have contributed to the problems at the scene of the Sofa Super Store blaze that took the lives of nine Charleston firefighters.

Last month, the city received an independent review team report that highlighted a number of faults in fighting the June 18, 2007, fire, including a culture in the Charleston fire department that compensated for a lack of organization with dangerously aggressive and uncoordinated firefighting operations.

“It pointed out many tragic causal factors,” Riley said last week. “From the illegal addition to the Sofa Super Store building, without which this fatal fire would never have occurred, to a number of operational policies in our department that may have affected the safe and successful fighting of this fire. I recognize and acknowledge these shortcomings, I take responsibility for them, and state once again my commitment to correcting them.”

Riley has often noted the “perfect storm” of circumstances that led to the fire and complicated the response, though he’s avoided including the department’s troubles in that “perfect storm.” The independent review team has noted the fire wasn’t unusual and a better prepared department could have made a difference in its outcome.

Also last week, Riley criticized City Council members for trying to inject themselves in personnel matters after outgoing Fire Chief Rusty Thomas made dozens of last-minute promotions and transfers that were perceived by some as retaliation against firefighters who spoke out against Thomas’ antiquated firefighting style.

“I sat over there for five hours the night before and knew absolutely nothing,” said Councilman Jimmy Gallant, who stepped down from the council’s Public Safety Committee in protest after Riley took control of a special meeting of the committee to discuss the transfers. “For some reason City Council cannot get information. That’s immoral.”

Riley called the actions of Gallant and other council members “theatrics.”

“This shouldn’t be a public relations feeding frenzy,” he said. “This must be about making progress in the City of Charleston and with this fire department.”

The promotions process includes an oral exam and an interview with a panel. Riley said that Chief Thomas exercised no discretion in selecting those promoted. Delaying the promotions wouldn’t have been fair or practical, Riley said, so he decided the promotions would go ahead on a probationary period.

“We have fires to fight,” Riley said.

Fire Department Engineer Brian Rivers said Chief Thomas retaliated against him by forcing him to transfer.

“Unfortunately, the truth is lacking here,” he told council members. —Greg Hambrick

55.6 percent

That’s the number of South Carolina students who graduated from high school on time in 2005, the latest year where data is available. The new figure moved South Carolina up from the worst graduation rate in the country to the 46th. Source: Diplomas Count

1/2 mile

That’s the distance of the new 12-foot-wide bike path running from the bottom of the Cooper River bridge down East Bay Street. City officials opened the new path last week.

McMaster Worried About Gay Marriage Challenges

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster joined nine other attorneys general in late May, pleading with the California Supreme Court to hold off on allowing gay marriages until opponents have a chance to challenge the measure at California’s polls in November. The court declined the stay, but the request raises questions about South Carolina’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.

Unlike Massachusetts, which only allows gay marriages for state residents, California will be offering marriage licenses to gay couples from throughout the country. The concern from McMaster and the other attorneys general appeared to be the potential for legal challenges to their states’ gay marriage bans from residents who cross the country to marry and then come home expecting the unions to be recognized.

“There was no reason for South Carolina to be a part of that list,” says Warren Redman-Gress, director of the local gay advocacy group Alliance for Full Acceptance.

South Carolina’s marriage amendment, signed into law in 2007 after voters approved the measure in the last general election, appears to be airtight when it comes to recognizing gay unions performed outside of the state. “This state and its political subdivisions shall not recognize or give effect to a legal status, right, or claim created by another jurisdiction respecting any other domestic union, however denominated,” the amendment reads.

McMaster did not return calls seeking comment. —Greg Hambrick

Get Ready Charleston, Rod Shealy is Coming

While things have been subdued in the Charleston primary scene over the last few weeks, the politics have been hot and heavy in sleepy Beaufort County. And famed South Carolina GOP political operative Rod Shealy, who has been spending his time trying to get Sen. Catherine Ceips reelected, will soon be turning his attention to Charleston’s 1st Congressional District.

Cieps has been in a bruising primary race with Tom Davis, the former chief of staff for Gov. Mark Sanford. Trouble in the campaign began in March, when Shealy sent an e-mail to local media with a picture of who he claimed was an illegal immigrant mugging for the camera while working on a paint crew at Davis’ Beaufort home. Both Davis and the painting contractor stated neither knew the man pictured and questioned how he and Ceips’ staff gained access to Davis’ home. Last week, more scandal surfaced, with Davis suggesting that a Ceips campaign letter with dozens of local endorsements included as many as 50 of Davis’ supporters — as well as about 10 other people who were dead. By the end of the week, The Beaufort Gazette was reporting that a new weekly newspaper that had popped up in the community with a scathing front-page story on Davis was owned by Shealy, even though the publisher claimed earlier in the week that she didn’t know who Rod Shealy was.

Shealy is also a political consultant for incumbent Congressman Henry Brown, who faced minor opposition in the GOP primary, but is sure to see a stronger challenge from Democrat Linda Ketner in the general election. —Greg Hambrick