By Barney Blakeney
In about three weeks Charleston voters will elect a new mayor. Six candidates are vying for the seat. They include: incumbent Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, Charleston City Councilmen Mike Seekings and Gary White, former Charleston City Councilman Maurice Washington, West Ashley resident Sheri Irwin, and James Island resident Michelle Renee Orth. I asked some observers their perspectives on the election relative to the Black community. Here are some responses.
Over the past 30 years racial demographics in the City of Charleston have changed radically. In 1990 the city’s African American population comprised about 40 percent of the total population. By 2010 that percentage had declined to about 25 percent, but still enough to influence city-wide elections. One public official said his biggest concern about the upcoming November 5 municipal election is voter apathy.
“Candidates who can do the most for us can’t win if we don’t go out and vote for them,” he said. “Without a presidential election or big names on the ballot only about 25 percent of voters go to the polls in municipal elections.” In a 2018 appeal Sixth Congressional District Cong. James Clyburn noted, “In South Carolina 68,000 African Americans who voted in the 2008 and 2012 Presidential Elections (Obama election years) did not vote in the 2010 and 2014 Gubernatorial elections. Even more disturbing is that more than 187,000 registered African American voters did not vote in any of those elections.”
On Charleston’s Sea Islands an effort is underway to encourage greater voter participation in the African American and Hispanic communities. The Progressive Club of Johns Island, Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Services, and the Wadmalaw Island Community Center have partnered to host a Mayoral Forum 6 p.m. Wednesday, October 30 at the St. Johns High School Auditorium, 1518 Main Road, Johns Island. Doors open at 6 p.m., the forum will begin at 7 p.m. All six mayoral candidates have confirmed they will attend.
“The City of Charleston’s aggressive push towards development, tourism, annexation, etc., over the past decade has contributed to flooding issues, gentrification, economic inequities, infrastructure problems, and traffic congestion. While these are issues impacting all Charleston residents, the African American and Hispanic communities have felt these quality of life issues in considerably more painful ways,” the partners stated in a press release.
A Charleston minister said Washington is the only African American in the race and likely is most sensitive to, and best able to articulate issues that affect the Black community. He anticipates Washington will garner the most votes among Black voters. But that could work against the Black community, said one political consultant. He anticipates a runoff that may not include Washington. In that case, Black voters should leverage their support in favor of the candidate who will offer the most concessions, he said.