By Barney Blakeney
As the Charleston mayoral election landscape fills, the list of contenders for the coinciding office in North Charleston seems stagnant. What’s that mean for the potential election of a Black mayoral candidate in either of the cities? We tried to find out.
Incumbent mayors in both cities will face substantial challenges. While Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg will face at least four already announced challengers, only one African American has emerged as a possible contender for the mayor’s office. Maurice Washington, who previously challenged former Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley for the seat, has not officially announced his candidacy, but indications are Washington may toss his hat in the ring with announced candidates who include three members of the current city council.
In North Charleston, longest serving incumbent Mayor Keith Summey seems poised to glide to another unprecedented term. Pastor Thomas Dixon is challenging Summey for the office this time around after three Black candidates failed to unseat Summey in 2015. Dixon says the November election will be different.
So far three other candidates, including African American John Singletary who also ran in 2015, have said they will challenge Summey. Despite another crowded field, Dixon said he is confident he can beat Summey. “I see a very good opportunity,” he said Tuesday.
That opportunity hinges on increasing the voter turnout in the city of about 100,000 people where some 54,000 are registered voters, Dixon said. Typically less than 30 percent of North Charleston voters turnout to vote. Summey has won each of his previous elections with about 5,000 votes. Dixon says his candidacy will motivate non-traditional voters to cast ballots.
In Charleston, since Joseph Riley stepped away from the mayor’s office after some 40 years, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘traditional’ voting bloc. Over his unprecedented tenure Riley beat off any attempt by African Americans to unseat him. Tecklenburg outpaced two African Americans – Toby Smith and William Dudley Gregorie – to succeed Riley.
Charleston Councilman Perry Keith Waring said with five other candidates in the race, a single Black mayoral candidate stands a credible chance of winning. But he speculated that if the election were held today, Tecklenburg likely would win. “But November’s another question,” Waring added. Waring said if a Black candidate is going to campaign for the job, that announcement must come soon.
“With only about six months left before the election, a Black candidate would have to make a serious effort now,” Waring said.