Full disclosure first: I have hosted a meet and greet for Charleston City Councilman Gary White. I also made a donation to his campaign. I serve on the CARTA board with Councilman Mike Seekings, who has been an excellent board chair. I wrote a check to his campaign as well. Lastly, I have admired the Facebook videos of my longtime friend Maurice Washington, who I worked with on his very first run for mayor in the mid-90s.
I do not pretend to be an impartial observer in the race for mayor of Charleston, but it is important to me that the race be decided on the candidates’ real accomplishments and not exaggerated ones. A recent mailing by the Tecklenburg campaign provides ample examples of the latter.
The mailer, bearing the title “Results Across Charleston,” lists purported accomplishments superimposed on a map of the city. At first blush, the list appears very impressive. But a deeper dive calls into question the veracity of several of the purported claims.
For instance, the Tecklenburg team claims credit for putting the “IAAM Under Construction” — discussing the International African American Museum which breaks ground this week near the South Carolina Aquarium. This begs the obvious question: Is Mayor Tecklenburg really the reason that the IAAM is under construction?
Technically, he did occupy the mayor’s office when the building permits were issued. That counts for something. But anyone with a remote awareness of local politics knows that the IAAM was, and is, former Mayor Joe Riley’s pet project post-retirement. It was Riley, along with former IAAM CEO Michael Moore, who raised millions of dollars to make the IAAM a reality, not Tecklenburg. Under Mayor Tecklenburg’s administration, the city has not donated any additional funding to the IAAM over what was earmarked under Riley.
Tecklenburg’s taking credit for the IAAM is like Tim Cook taking credit for the runaway success of the iPhone. Fans of Steve Jobs may rightfully beg to differ.
Ditto on another claimed Tecklenburg accomplishment: that he “Opened the Louis Waring Senior Center.” Technically, again, this is true. In theory, the individual who serves as the night watchman for the Waring Center can plausibly make the same claim if he unlocks the building each morning.
If we are talking about opening the center in the literal sense, however, the Waring Senior Center was approved and entirely funded during Riley’s last term in office. (Check the city records if you disagree.) Use of the land where the complex is built was negotiated with Roper St. Francis during Riley’s last term.
Tecklenburg is no more responsible for “opening the Waring Senior Center” than he is for constructing Waterfront Park, Joe Riley Stadium, or the South Carolina Aquarium. You can’t claim credit for baking a cake just because you stumble into the kitchen while it’s being taken out of the oven.
This is not to suggest that Tecklenburg has had no meaningful accomplishments of his own while in office. He did double the cost of metered parking downtown and extended the hours of enforcement from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. This created much more revenue for the city. That is a decision he can rightfully own, although it appears nowhere on his mailer.
Similarly, he has been a tireless advocate for low-income and affordable housing. These are laudable achievements. Perhaps most significantly, he championed Charleston’s apology for slavery. He deserves much credit for this which took leadership on his part, and the resolution likely would not have occurred without his unwavering support.
Last but not least, Tecklenburg headlined the Homeless to Hope Benefit, singing and playing piano for a substantial fundraiser to benefit the homeless. Any one of these accomplishments, which he can own from beginning to end, may be a valid reason for any of his supporters to argue that he deserves to be re-elected.
From my vantage point, however, while it is great to have a mayor who is a talented musician and who will sing and play at any occasion unprompted, these were not the skills for which he was elected. If I hire a plumber fix a leaky toilet, and when he gets to the house he begins playing the violin, I may appreciate his talent, but I’m certainly not hiring him the next time my pipes are clogged.
Many folks in Charleston crave the strong leadership exemplified by Mayor Joe Riley, and want those qualities in their next mayor. A proven track record of success is one of the best ways to evaluate those qualities. Others are content with an extremely kind, friendly, and talented musician who may not be able to lead city council, but at least will do no harm. Everyone is entitled to vote for the mayoral candidate whose skills, achievements, and demeanor appeals most to them.
If any potential voters are still on the fence about who to vote for, and a candidate’s specific list of claimed accomplishments is an important consideration, then it pays to do the research to make sure each accomplishment which a candidate claims is actually based on fact. If the claims do not add up, then maybe that candidate just isn’t the right person for the job.