By Barney Blakeney
Charleston Dist. 3 incumbent City Councilman James Lewis hopes to retain the seat he first was elected to in 1995 in the November 19 runoff election. Lewis currently is serving his sixth term in office. November 5 he received 48 percent of the vote in the race against three challengers. To win, Lewis needs 50 percent-plus one vote.
“I want to thank those who voted for me and I’m asking them to vote for me again. I’m asking those who didn’t vote for me November 5 to consider voting for me in the November 19 runoff election so I can continue my work on council providing affordable housing to working people and our senior citizens. I will continue working with the mayor and council to address flooding,” he said. During his 24 years on the council, Lewis has been a voice for the people. He says it is imperative he has the platform city council provides to amplify that voice.
Lewis points to numerous accomplishments during his tenure. Among them are new affordable housing units in his Ashleyville/Maryville district and on the peninsula Eastside. In the past seven years he’s worked with council to invest over $100 million in projects that directly benefit Black communities. They include the rehabilitation of Stoney Field, 62 units of affordable housing at the site of the former Cooper River bridges landfall at Meeting and Lee streets, 54 affordable housing units on Hanover Street, Ashleyville Park and about $12.5 million to the International African American Museum. It’s a rapport that’s also invested millions for parks and infrastructure for other communities, he said.
“I’ve tried to give good constituent service,” said Lewis noting the recent appropriation of about $1 million for the renovation of the old fire station that now serves as a community center at 1099 King Street. October 15, it was dedicated in honor of long time North Central Neighborhood Council President Rev. Alma Dungee. And in West Ashley, the new Higgins Pier and Ashleyville Park honor community leaders such as the late Leonard Higgins. In his district downtown, he said $5.5 million has been approved for the Huger Street/King Street drainage project expected to be completed next year.
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.
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 has served as 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. He currently serves on council’s Human Resource, Community Development and Public Safety committees.