Why we should re-elect John Tecklenburg
Charleston Mercury Editorial Board
Four years ago as the Mercury sought to discern who was best fit to lead among the many candidates vying to fill Joe Riley’s long held spot as Charleston’s mayor, we said the following of John Tecklenburg: “... capable and caring, passionate and personable, Mr. Tecklenburg is a rejection of the hucksterism we have seen in too many political rings.”
Of course we thought we were right, but after this summer’s audit debacle, this passage was downright prophetic. Thousands of dollars were spent to investigate what turned out to be a whole load of nothing. As the Post and Courier noted of the audit’s results: “The biggest flagged expenses were contributions to celebrations for a civil rights icon’s 90th birthday and for the law enforcement and emergency responders who helped rescue a kidnapped John's Island child ... Not exactly scandalous.”
Indeed. What clearer illustration can there be of the split between City Hall and multiple members of council? “Hucksterism,” as we put it in 2015, has been on grand display throughout the audit debacle and, if for no other reason, Charleston City Council needs its hand slapped by the citizenry and reminded that some folks need to focus more on working with the mayor rather than scheming how to become mayor themselves.
Perhaps some citizens lost sight of this fact in decades past, but the mayor of Charleston is not a dictator and does not have carte blanche to reshape the city according to his own desires. The BAR has been split and short- term-rental issues have been addressed, issues Mayor Tecklenburg campaigned on; time and again he has attempted to get council to pass changes to the zoning process to better address hotel concerns. Time and again, council has refused.
Most importantly — reasonably — there is only so much any mayor can do to slow the impact of the tourism industry in Charleston. So long as we continue to win national “best destination” awards, people will come. Radical moves to halt this — such as a one-year moratorium on hotel development — have been proposed by the mayor ... and shot down by city council.
When it comes to community relations and being the face of the city, Mayor Tecklenburg has made Charleston proud time and time again. He has gone to crime scenes and prayed with the families of the victims. Citizens have heard the mayor play “Amazing Grace” on the piano, and they cannot help but know where his heart is when it comes to the wellbeing of Charlestonians; you cannot fake that.
Unless you have been living under a rock, Mayor Tecklenburg has made fixing flooding issues his number one priority. He has delivered his fix-flooding slide show to many civic groups and spoken and written to media outlets and his misguided council members about what requires help and how we can fund pieces of the puzzle. After decades of neglect, a two billion dollar solution will not be something any mayor can fix in a day, but he has been a valiant champion of this key issue. Instead of parading about peddling feel-good issues, he has used his political capital and goodwill with citizens to draw attention to this critical issue. The mayor understands that flooding matters will require more bare knuckles to get across the finish line and we should let him continue to fight for us.
Working together to direct better the flow of tourists requires, among other things, working together. We applaud Councilman Seekings’ promotion of a head tax on cruise ship passengers, but understand City Hall’s unwillingness to push it after testing the necessary state-legislative waters and finding them unwelcome. If the “Dictator of S.C.” should lose power, we trust Mayor Tecklenburg will give it another try.
On livability issues, the mayor has focused on the steak, not the sizzle. Annexing and rezoning peripheral areas to prevent overdevelopment, lowering allowed density on the peninsula, improving parks in all parts of the city and many more efforts besides have all helped improve our quality of life. Quiet, hard work is more valuable than mere handwaving, or impossible-to-fulfill promises to roll back major demographic change in our area, as too many other candidates in the race are currently peddling.
The past four years have, of course, not been perfect in Charleston. There are many things we would like to see our municipal government accomplish in the next four years. “Plan West Ashley” was done with a once-unimaginable level of citizen input, deftly helmed by the West Ashley Revitalization Commission and has presented many admirable goals for improvement to our city. Now lets see a similar process, with a deep dedication to listening to locals, on James and John’s Island.
Transit and parking must be improved; no one was happy about changes to the parking regime earlier this year. Real solutions that allow Charlestonians to continue to work in and enjoy their city, even if they don’t live on the peninsula, must be found.
Finish some other important plans. Call out those who stand in the way of implementing things like the Tourism Management Plan (soon to celebrate its fifth birthday), that citizens may sharpen their pitchforks appropriately. Speaking of ... finish the Maybank Highway pitchforks on John’s Island.
One last thing of which we remain convinced: John Tecklenburg ran and won with the promise of a self-imposed two-term limit. We thought (and still do) this to be wise and prudent. We urge city of Charleston voters to support Mayor Tecklenburg for his final term. With the right council members by the mayor’s side, City Hall can address more effectively a host of public policy issues; otherwise, Charleston’s citizens will face a future as shaky as a bicycle ride on Chalmers Street.