2017 Political Highlights Lacked Luster

By Barney Blakeney

2017 was an eventful year for Blacks politically that included some significant highlights. In November, Marvin Pendarvis was elected to fill the unexpired term left vacant by the retirement of S.C. House Dist. 113 Rep. Seth Whipper and North Charleston constituents saw Kevin Hollingshead elected to the Charleston County School Board, becoming the second Black person on the board serving them.

Robert Brown

At the state level House Dist. 116 Rep. Robert Brown said the abandoned Santee-Cooper/SCANA nuclear generator construction probably leads as the most obvious legislative highlight. News that the energy giants would abandon the $9 billion construction project left legislators who had sanctioned it with egg on their faces. Legislators allowed the state’s top electric and gas providers to funnel the cost of the project to ratepayers then had to figure how to prevent ratepayers from bearing the burden of the project’s failure, Brown said.

Less obvious was the Legislative Black Caucus’ fight to keep the Confederate Flag from flying in a prominent position at the Statehouse, he said. Despite racial and economic concerns, legislative conservatives to the far right still are fighting to hoist the Confederate Flag, Brown said. He pointed to the continued lack of focus on providing sorely needed resources to underfunded school districts in the state as another highlighted battlefront.

Funding for highway infrastructure, Brown said, got more attention than political corruption however. Before the year ended, three high profile legislators were indicted on criminal charges and East Cooper Rep. Jim Merrill would resign as a result of those indictments. The story of corruption unfolding in the Statehouse is one that tells us new leadership is needed, Brown said.

James Lewis

In the City of Charleston Councilman James Lewis said the $20 million bond referendum passed in November by voters, to fund affordable housing initiatives was the most stunning highlight for the city. The funding will facilitate housing initiatives downtown and West Ashley, he said. That the city lost both its police and fire chiefs in 2017 was business as usual, Lewis said. And beyond private development that continues unprecedented construction, the city had no new major capital projects, he said.

North Charleston City Councilwoman Virginia Jamison said much of the same old stuff that became highlighted issues nationally was reflected there in 2017. But city officials’ failure to insure economic and industrial revitalization benefitted constituents leaves her disappointed.

“This year for North Charleston City Council has been the same as always,” Jamison said. We function as a very weak City Council and a strong Mayor with his staff. I felt an involvement when we installed the commission on community and police relations, but I have since learned that little is being discussed and information gathering is very controlled. I do applaud the effort for body cameras for sergeants and above. And I think we are looking closer at the rezoning issues that in the past were not discussed openly. I am impressed that more people of color are starting to get involved with property and zoning, but it is not enough. As city council, we need to follow the money a little closer.”

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