By Barney Blakeney
The November 7 Charleston municipal elections produced a runoff in the District 6 race that potentially could radically alter the composition of Charleston City Council. Incumbent Rodney Williams’ loss in the Dist. 2 election insures the number of minority representatives on the council will decline from five to four. Should William Dudley Gregorie lose his Nov. 21 runoff, election that number will be reduced to three after new councilmembers are installed in January.
When Charleston first elected city council members under the single member district voting system, the city’s majority Black population won six seats on the 12-member council. Redevelopment and annexation over the past 40 years has reduced the city’s Black population from about 70 percent in 1975 to about 28 percent today.
Charleston Branch NAACP President Dot Scott said last week’s election sends a clear message that racial demographics in the city have changed.
“While numbers alone don’t matter, we must be concerned about what they mean,” Scott said Tuesday. To make that determination, “We have to ask how did we get here and will it help to keep those who represent the numbers in place. We must have representatives who put forth the needs of the constituents they represent. If a representative is fighting for their constituents, the number of minorities on council doesn’t matter. Constituents just want representatives who will fight for them and their children.”
Incumbent Rodney Williams, who last week lost the seat he won four years ago in the majority white Dist. 2, said racial demographics on Charleston City Council will have more impact as the city becomes more exclusively white. City council redistricting in 2020 likely will produce an additional white majority council district. And as gentrification continues to influence housing patterns, drawing majority black council district will become more difficult, he said.
Charleston Council Dist. 7 Representative Perry Keith Waring was more candid. He said the racial composition of city council is about balance – a balance that can bring focus to issues that affect different segments of the population. He noted that Gregorie, a retired HUD executive, has been one of council’s most knowledgeable and provocative voices for diverse housing initiatives in the city.
Pointing to the planned housing initiatives and redevelopment of property at Lee and Meeting streets at the former footprint of the demolished John P. Grace and William Morrison bridges, Waring said other contenders for seats in the two runoff elections likely have no sense of the importance of the projects. As much as minority representation, the experience of those elected to council will impact the city’s Black population, he said.