Since we now live in an age where elections are less about governing and more about the ongoing drama about governing, the recent election of John Tecklenburg as Charleston’s first new mayor in 40 years is generating a lot of drama about what it will mean for Charleston.
Will he be a continuation of the Riley administration or will his leadership offer a sharp departure? Is Tecklenburg’s proposed hotel moratorium a sincere gesture that he will take to City Council, fully expecting their quick approval, or will it be revealed to be a cover for an evil plan to further develop the entire peninsula into a haven for the nouveau riche and their tacky cruise ships and giant SUVs? However you look at it, the next four years will be an interesting time for the people who live and work in the city, especially the small group of people who showed up for the Beach Company’s “tweetchat” on Nov. 19.
The Beach Company’s tweetchat drew about 20 active participants and at least a few silent observers. The format, such as it was, consisted of Beach asking questions while a collection of special interest groups and PR people gave their answers in carefully chosen talking points. For instance, Charleston Moves mentioned the city’s transportation woes in response to one such question while Lowcountry Local First reminded everyone about the importance of small business. Occasionally, the answers might cross over or one participant might agree with another, but the event seemed largely like a staged platform for a certain class of Charlestonians to get their respective messages out. As a whole, the Beach’s tweetchat was largely a homogenous and conservative discussion, at least by my standards of what it means to be truly progressive — supporting a living wage, a truly free education, and, gasp, reparations.
The main problem with Beach’s chat was that it wasn’t really clear who was supposed to be listening and what those of us who were listening were supposed to take away from the affair. Sure, in the end the Beach Company was nice enough to point everyone to a page on their site encouraging “civic engagement” in the form of writing letters to the daily paper or city council or getting offline long enough to go to council meetings, but the purpose for doing all that was never clearly stated.
As the people of the Trobriand Islands might say, there was a certain mokita in the midst of this little display of Twitter angst and its name was Sergeant Jasper. Unless you just got to Charleston this fall as a College of Charleston freshperson (or possibly just woke up from a particularly bad bender downtown), you might know of the ongoing battle between the Beach Company and the Board of Architectural Review, at the behest of the people who live South of Broad and in Harleston Village, over the Sergeant Jasper property.
It seems as though the Beach Company has finally, despite all of its money and influence in this town, run up against a power far greater than its own: the entrenched interests of the moneyed residents of the peninsula. Despite having a vision for the Sergeant Jasper site that might actually be beneficial to the city as a whole (and maybe even progressive, if I do say myself), Beach’s proposal runs 180-degrees contrary to the established order. After all, when you live in an area of town that grants you a designation that is spoken of with the reverence that people around here grant to South Of Broad, you are the established order. And any town that has had a single man sitting behind the mayor’s desk in City Hall for a solid four decades is one that worships established order above all other things.
This past election wasn’t a mandate about change as much as it was mandated change. Remember, no one beat Joe Riley in this election. For the most part, John Tecklenburg was elected because his two closest challengers beat themselves. And now all Mayor Tecklenburg has to do is not let his constituents, both north and South of Broad, force him out of office with their demands.