Three candidates with deep West Ashley roots enter the mayoral race, threatening to divide the city’s largest and most powerful voting block

by Bill Davis | News Editor

West Ashley’s growing political clout may be its undoing in the coming mayoral election this fall.

With the three announced candidates for that race all hailing from West Ashley – Mayor John Tecklenburg, and City Councilmen Gary White and Harry Griffin — will they slice up our power base and hand the election to an unannounced downtown candidate?

City Councilman Mike Seekings has been toying with running for mayor for years. Writing election stories about him is like writing a sequel to Waiting for Godot.

Seekings confirmed recently he will “make a decision and an announcement” later this month.

For years, folks in West Ashley have been saying it’s our “time.” After decades of neglect from the mayor’s office and City Council, West Ashley’s dominant voting base has become a force.

West of the Ashley (including James and Johns islands) dominates City Council numerically. The mayor is from here. U.S. Congressman (D-S.C.) Joe Cunningham is from here.

But progress on this side of the river has already proven to be a two-sided shovel; where when you gain something new, you lose something old.

Politics is turning out the same way

Rather than making the coming election about who is the best at “carving up” the votes, Seekings sees it as a race of who can best lead the city. He can’t resist taking a jab, though: “I think it’s interesting that the announced candidates are running straight in the mayor’s backyard; two City Councilmen who have had a front row seat” to Tecklenburg’s administration.

College of Charleston political science chairman Gibbs Knotts says that the looming mayoral race is in “danger” of candidates from one side — this time the Ashley River instead of the political aisle — not coordinating. “Like Trump did to the GOP in 2016,” says Knotts of the flooded Republican field of contenders.

Knotts says that the mayor has a huge advantage, being the incumbent and having his name in the news a lot. He also says that advantage only grows because Tecklenburg hasn’t made any “huge” mistakes.

That’s not the way Griffin sees it. In his very short time on Council, Griffin says he’s seen a mayor who is keener on preserving the peninsula to the detriment of West Ashley.

“If you drain the city’s drainage fund” for projects downtown, there will be nothing left for the ongoing mediation of flooding issues in the Church Creek area, according to Griffin.

If he were mayor, the 24-year-old Griffin says he would maximize funding for downtown drainage projects from other sources, like existing peninsular TIF districts, the state’s infrastructure bank, and others. West Ashley, he points out, doesn’t have the variety of funding sources available to it as does the peninsula.

Griffin says he “cherishes” the different parts of the city, but it’s clear that he welcomes being seen as West Ashley’s “champion” on Council. He says both the mayor and White, who represents Daniel Island, are more “downtown-centric” than he is.

Councilman White, who was born and raised in West Ashley and owns a business here, acknowledges the West Ashley voting power could get diluted.

Any time multiple candidates in any race are from the same area, you are going to have a split,” says White, adding that it doesn’t take a “political statistician” to get to that perspective.

White may represent Daniel Island on Council, but he “represents” the W-A in his heart, having grown up and gone to school here until high school when his dad’s career pulled the family to the Florida Keys to bust drug smugglers.

These days, his business, Urban Core Advisors, is still located in West Ashley, and has as one of his colleagues former City Councilman Aubry Alexander.

There has already been a further divvying up of support on Council, with familiar battle lines drawn in West Ashley. Councilman Peter Shahid has supported the mayor, and Councilmen Bill Moody and Keith Waring are again for anyone not named Tecklenburg, this time it’s White they are supporting.

Tecklenburg’s campaign manager, and son, Joseph Tecklenburg, says the mayor is content on running on his record as a mayor for the entire city, not just the western portion of Charleston.

Recent polling, both friendly to his campaign and more neutral, show a definite lead for the mayor. So, apparently Tecklenburg’s effort to stem flooding, tighten short-term rentals, and slow hotel development seems to be resonating.

“We’d rather have 10 candidates as opponents,” says Joseph, pointing to the polling.

But there is still another battle to be won: money. Tecklenburg won office in a run-off against presumed frontrunner state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-West Ashley), despite raising less cash than him or Ginny Deering.

Joseph Tecklenburg says that the goal for their campaign is to raise $1 million. White says he is also targeting that amount. Griffin agrees, but striking a rising populist tone, hopes there won’t be as much “outside money” in this race.

So, does this mean that a plethora of West Ashley candidates for mayor may hand the election to a Mike Seekings-type? Maybe. But there will be a lot of politicking and baby-kissing before we know for sure.

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