No confidence? Charleston City Council members back colleague for mayor over Tecklenburg

Post & Courier |

- Filing opens for candidates running for Charleston Mayor and City Council Districts 1,3,5,7,9 and 11, as well as for one seat on the Charleston Water System.

- Filing closes at noon.

- Any eligible voter in the city must be registered by this date if he or she wants to vote in the city's elections.

- .

- Election runoffs (for any races where the winning candidate did not receive more than 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 5).

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg is up for re-election this year, but he already has three challengers and even more detractors on City Council, some of whom have blocked his efforts to curb growth.

Councilman Gary White became the most recent candidate to join the race, announcing his bid Thursday flanked by six current and former council members.

“I think you can see with the turnout here today there is a vote of no confidence in the current administration,” White said, adding that many of the council members urged him to run.

Tecklenburg said those council members “are all good folks, but we just honestly have a different approach, a difference of opinion, particularly when it comes to issues like hotel development and even protecting ourselves from flooding and drainage.”

Some of the council members backing White, such as Bill Moody and Keith Waring, have helped thwart Tecklenburg’s repeated attempts to rein in hotel development, an issue he highlighted during his 2015 race but since has struggled to deliver on.

White did not detail any particular plank on which he disagrees with Tecklenburg, but he said, “I can tell you the one key difference. I’m about action. We’ve studied enough. It’s time to take action.”

Tecklenburg said he’s been all about action, but White and many supporting him not only have pushed back on hotel regulations but also on raising minimum building heights, calling for moratoriums on growth until more studies can be done and keeping Church Creek’s new stormwater rules intact.

“We just honestly have a different approach,” Tecklenburg said. “I’m about making tough choices to protect our citizens and our property from flooding. Although they talk a good game, sometimes they’re not willing to step up to the plate and hit the ball.”

White joins first-term City Councilman Harry Griffin and Will Freeman, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a state House seat last year. Both Griffin and Freeman have indicated their intent to run with a state agency that tracks campaign spending.

While the city’s mayoral race is nonpartisan, all of Tecklenburg’s announced challengers identify as Republicans or conservatives.

Tecklenburg, like former Mayor Joe Riley, has been an active Democrat.

Freeman has filed and raised $387 so far but has less than $100 on hand. Griffith filed with the State Ethics Commission but has not reported raising any money to date. Tecklenburg has $259,383.01 on hand.

White’s campaign has not filed a campaign disclosure form so far and doesn’t need to until he raises or spends $500.

Meanwhile, other candidates could emerge. Councilman Mike Seekings has said he expects to decide by next month whether he will run, and former councilman Maurice Washington, who ran in 2015, also is rumored to be interested.

Not every candidate may actually end up on the ballot, however. Four years ago, multiple candidates filed with the state Ethics Commission and began testing the waters but ultimately opted out of the race before filing opened.

City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, who has run for mayor during the past three mayoral elections, said he will not try for a fourth time this year but will back White instead. Gregorie pointed to the current and former council members present with White on Thursday, saying, “It’s a vote of no confidence.”

Asked whether the number of sitting council members opposing the mayor might affect the city’s operation, White said he does not expect that to occur.

“I certainly hope the business of the city doesn’t stall out,” he said. “The city still has to run.”

Tecklenburg said he isn’t worried that mayoral politics will impact city business. “I love my city, and I get up every day trying to do the best I can to move us forward,” he said.

White said he would work to protect the diversity of the city’s landscapes and communities and would emphasize affordable housing. He pledged a transparent administration.

First elected to City Council 12 years ago, White has represented Daniel Island and parts of peninsular Charleston. He said he is proudest of helping to establish Governor’s Park, the largest park on Daniel Island, as well as the 21,000-square-foot recreation and fitness center that is planned on the island. He said work on that should begin soon.

White’s District 1 council seat is up for grabs this year but he said he will run for mayor instead of seeking re-election.

Dana Beach, former director of the Coastal Conservation League, attended White’s announcement on behalf of Lowcountry Livability, a political action committee that formed in 2017. The committee helps candidates who focus on flooding, transportation, tourism management, affordable housing and development limits, and it currently has almost $22,000 in the bank.

“I’m glad there are people in the race,” Beach said. “The key is getting past the hand waving and getting down to the specific agendas.”

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