By Barney Blakeney
Charleston City Council District 3 incumbent Councilman James Lewis, Jr. says the November 5th municipal election in which he is seeking re-election is one he must win. Lewis currently is serving his 24th year on the council. He immediately surfaced as a voice for constituents when first elected in 1995. Since then he has continued to be a voice for the people. He says it is imperative he has the platform city council offers to amplify that voice.
Lewis is one of four African Americans on the 12-member council. His district encompasses eight neighborhoods that include much of the northwestern peninsula and parts of West Ashley closest to the Ashley River, i.e. Ashleyville/Maryville and East Oak Forest and West Oak Forest. Lewis has been described as council’s conscience, a sensitive unfailing advocate for minority and low and moderate income residents in an increasingly more racially homogeneous and affluent city.
“I’ve got to win this one for the few minorities left in the district,” he said last week from his midtown peninsula home on the west side. His majority Black District 3 is about 55 percent African American. But he is not only concerned for his Black constituents. “A lot of people who work in the city can’t afford to live in the city. This city was built on service jobs. I want to insure that we provide decent housing for the people who work in the city, especially African Americans,” he said.
Lewis grew up on the peninsula’s east side. He went to public schools there and for some 40 years worked in the community rising from clerk to supervisor with Piggly Wiggly Carolina before retiring several years ago. A widow, he raised his three children in District #3. He knows the district and the needs of the people who live there.
Affordable housing is paramount for those who have lived in District 3 and those who have moved to District 3, he believes. He noted some rental units cost as much as $2,500 monthly. He says he wants to see through efforts to complete 300 additional low income affordable housing units in his district and various communities around the city by next year. And he is conscious of how wages factor into the affordable housing equation. He fought for the city’s recently passed $12 per hour minimum wage.
Lewis is distinguished as council’s only member who does not own or drive a car. He does not have a driver’s license. It is that experience, awareness and sensitivity that he is use to advocating for public transportation.
He has been council’s representative to the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) the past 16 years. During that time he diligently worked to develop multi-layered benefits to the cash-strapped system that has resulted in fiscal solvency and greater customer service. CARTA’s aging fleet is 80 percent replaced and offers more free and reduced cost services to more citizens than ever before, he said. Over the next four years, Lewis promises he will work to provide more and better service to seniors, residents and workers in the city.
As a familiar pedestrian on the peninsula, Lewis also is acutely aware of the need for safe communities and the need to address flooding. A one-time victim of a mugging, the Public Safety Committee co-chair thinks a well-funded and well trained police force is a deterrent to crime, not its answer. At the same time he demands the city’s officers remember their job is to serve the community. One of the city’s most chronically flooding intersections – King Street at Huger Street – is in his district. Lewis said the only way to solve the city’s flooding issues is to leverage state and federal funding to enable residents to “live with it”.
Lewis is the senior member of council and has served as the City of Charleston Mayor Pro-Tem. He thinks his knowledge, experience and sensitivity make him the candidate constituents should chose to represent them the next four years. Charleston and District 3 is changing, he said. But for the next four he thinks his reliable voice is the one they need on city council.