By Barney Blakeney
For many the November 19 Charleston municipal runoff elections came as no surprise – Mayor John Tecklenburg retained his seat against challenger Charleston Councilman Mike Seekings. For others the election was as surprising as Christmas morning to a kid.
In the early polling, Tecklenburg held a 2:1 lead over Seekings as 26 percent of precincts reported. The District 3 council race however was closer. Lewis held a marginal lead over Sakran by a mere 55 votes. Both races were hotly contested in the November 5 municipal election.
In Charleston municipal elections, candidates must receive more than 50 percent of the vote to claim victory. Tecklenburg, who got 48 percent of the November 5 vote, faced four challengers including Seekings, the District 8 councilman and District 1 Councilman Gary White. Lewis, a six-term incumbent who also got 48 percent of the November vote, faced four challengers including Sakran. In runoff elections, it’s winner take all. At 8 p.m. November 19, both incumbents held their leads after 60 percent precincts had reported.
While the citywide mayoral race focused on sweeping issues such as flooding, overwhelming development, infrastructure and traffic congestion; the council race included more poignant issues – visionary proactive leadership focused on the future, affordable housing, constituent service and the changing demographics of transitioning neighborhoods. The repetitive beat of the mayoral campaigns were contrasted by the accented rhythms of the council race. The differences became obvious as the votes were counted.
By 9 p.m. with more than 90 percent of precincts reported the eventual outcomes of both races seemed clear – Tecklenburg held a commanding 61 percent lead over Seekings and Lewis appeared to be pulling away with 54 percent of the District 3 vote. For Tecklenburg, it indicated he comfortably could sink into the chair behind the desk in the mayor’s office four more years. And it seemed Lewis might be assured four more years as the voice of minority and less affluent residents in the city where livability for the average worker has become unaffordable. But that would change.
Seekings threw in the towel early as it seemed he never would catch Tecklenburg. He conceded the election to Tecklenburg who by 10 p.m. was playing piano at his downtown campaign headquarters. Lewis on the other hand was sweating bullets in anticipation of a photo finish – he was trailing Sakran, who had come from behind, to capture the lead by a 25-vote margin.
Wednesday morning it still was unclear who was the District 3 council seat winner. Sakran was holding a 25-vote lead over Lewis at 7 a.m. with three or four precincts still uncounted, according to Charleston County Board of Elections and Voter Registration.
Prior to boarding a Wednesday morning flight to a national conference in Texas, Lewis said, “I was leading and all of a sudden I was 25 votes behind.” Unsure of the outcome at that point he added, “I appreciate that the voters gave me the opportunity to serve them 24 years. I enjoyed it.”
Jason Sakran officially defeated James Lewis, Jr. with 50.62% of the vote to Lewis’ 49.38% to gain the City Council District 3 seat.