By Barney Blakeney
Charleston voters will go to the polls November 7 to elect six councilmembers. They also will decide whether to approve a $20 million bond referendum to facilitate the creation of 800 units of affordable housing. While electing councilmembers to serve in the city’s even-numbered districts is important, equally important is approving the bond referendum say incumbents seeking re-election. That means all Charleston voters should cast ballots whether they’re electing a representative for their respective council districts or not.
In the majority white West Ashley Dist. 2, first term incumbent Rodney Williams, who is Black, is vying for a second term. District Six Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, who also is Black, is seeking re-election to a third term in the majority white district that encompasses some of the peninsula west side and parts of James Island. District Four incumbent Robert Mitchell is seeking re-election to the majority Black council seat he first captured in 1998. Mitchell is running unopposed.
Williams is being challenged by West Ashley businessman Kevin Shealy. District 4 incumbent In District 6 Gregorie is seeking re-election to a third term in the majority white district that encompasses some of the peninsula west side and parts of James Island. He will face off against Fran Clasby, whom he defeated in 2013, and Amy Brennan. In Dist. Eight, incumbent Mike Seekings is seeking a third term. He is unchallenged for the seat. District 10 incumbent Dean Riegel is seeking a third term facing off against Harry J. Griffin and professional services specialist Summer Massey. And in Dist. 12 fourth term incumbent Kathleen Wilson is challenged by retired nonprofit executive Carol Jackson for the James Island seat on council.
Gregorie, a retired U.S. Housing and Urban Development executive, said the November 7 election will be one of the most important for Charleston voters in recent history because it will determine if the city is able to get funding to leverage the creation of hundreds of housing units affordable to residents with various income levels.
The 20-year, $20 million bond represents a rare opportunity for the city to make not just workforce housing a reality, but also housing that is affordable for residents at every level of income. “We need this one,” Gregorie said. “Voters must show up at the polls. And all of them will be open,” Gregorie noted.
Because the election is “an off-year election”, voter turnout is expected to be low. District 3 Councilman James Lewis said the referendum’s failure due to low voter turnout would mean a missed opportunity. “We have a mayor who wants to do some truly affordable housing and we have some land. But we don’t have any money to develop the housing,” he said.
Williams said as housing costs continue to escalate, the development of housing affordable to lower income residents is critical. He emphasized that affordable housing is an issue that shouldn’t suppose connotations about race or poverty. “This is going to affect the poorest of the poor as well as workforce housing. It’s an issue about the ability of people to live where they work. It’s an issue about growth, housing and traffic. It’s an issue that affects us all,” he said.