One result of the November Charleston municipal elections is the retention of five Blacks on city council for at least the next two years.
When municipal elections went from at-large to single member district elections in 1975, the city’s majority Black population elected six members to the 12-member council.
Methodical annexation and redevelopment since then has shifted that political balance of power again to a white majority. While some say the number of Blacks on Charleston City Council has not proven an advantage in the past, there are those who are optimistic about the possibilities over the next two years.
Having six Blacks on city council from 1976 through 2000 produced few political, social or economic gains for the Black community said one west side civic advocate. The city’s administration featured six Blacks on council and numerous Blacks in key positions, but the Black community’s political clout and strategic administrative roles never translated into specific gains.
Rather, the socio-economic condition of Blacks in the city declined, he said.
One indication of the inability of the Black community to empower itself through the strength of its political clout is the fact that the city’s Black residents that was 70 percent of the population in 1980 now is less than 30 percent of the population, he said.
Still there is cause for some optimism with five Blacks remaining on the council.
Charleston Councilman Keith Waring whose West Ashley district represents the city’s greatest concentration of Black residents, said several traditionally Black West Ashley communities are poised to experience net gains from a new administration promising to provide resources to West Ashley neighborhoods. Especially in the path of quality of life initiatives are the Ashleyville and Maryville communities where new waterfront parks are planned in the Ardmore and Orleans Woods communities, he said.
Rodney Williams, who represents the majority white West Ashley Dist. 2, said commercial development West Ashley will offer entrepreneurial opportunities to the Black business community, especially in the city’s $5 billion tourism economy. But paramount to enhancing the Black community that remains in the city will be affordable housing initiatives that address what he calls an “affordable housing crisis”. Williams says some of those initiatives already are being discussed.
Waring agreed. The gentrification issues that face peninsula residents is expanding to communities in West Ashley. Charleston officials must identify and implement new strategies for creating housing that is affordable to residents whose incomes span a much wider economic range, he said. And that responsibility doesn’t rest only on the shoulders of council’s five Black members, Waring added.
“We started the job with the elections, but the elections are over. Now we have to finish the job,” he said. “People, by the thousands, have been priced off the peninsula to form a gated city without the gates. Now that same dynamic is moving West Ashley.”