By Barney Blakeney
Jerome Heyward in North Charleston and Jason Sakran in Charleston both were elected November 5 in upset wins over two incumbents. Todd Olds and James Lewis Jr., respectively. Their wins signal changes beyond just in the representation of the districts, but also how their will impact their new constituents.
In North Charleston, Heyward who is Black, was elected in a district that is about 75 percent Black which never has elected a Black representative. In Charleston, Sakran whose mixed ancestry is white and Middle Eastern, will represent a transitioning majority Black district that previously never elected someone white. While some may pose that race doesn’t matter, the reality is that while race shouldn’t matter, it always does. The impact of race in the representation on the respective city councils could be profound in the future of their constituents.
Heyward, who previously lived West Ashley said he moved to North Charleston District 5 recently after selling his West Ashley home in a move to downsize since his children moved out. Heyward has been politically active for decades. He said he saw the opportunity to serve on North Charleston City Council as a way to impact the entire city. His campaign strategy was to go door to door to let constituents see him, said the newcomer to North Charleston.
A former Charleston County Sheriff Deputy, S.C. Legislative lobbyist and an entrepreneur, Heyward said he brings those experiences to the table which he’ll use to benefit constituents. In the eastern North Charleston district that runs parallel to Dorchester Road, he said he’s discovered two major issues – basic services and infrastructure must be a priority and that younger constituents must become more engaged in the political process.
On a broader scale, Heyward said the city’s economic prosperity isn’t reflected in all neighborhoods. While service in elective office is new to him, he isn’t unfamiliar with the processes that facilitate ‘real’ conversations about economic parity. He considers Mayor Keith Summey’s administration reasonable and predicts surprising success in such endeavors.
Change never comes easy, Heyward said. The conditions that define so many of North Charleston’s minority communities didn’t come into existence overnight. Improving those conditions won’t come overnight, he cautioned.
In Charleston Sakran faces different challenges. In the relatively prosperous District 3 where most constituents are homeowners the three calls he’d already received just two weeks after the election all concerned issues like garbage pick-up. He’ll be installed in the office in January. While knocking on 1,200 doors during his campaign, Sakran describe his West Ashley constituents’ receptive and more neutral compared to the more fervent reception he received in the district on the peninsula.
While the West Ashley precincts primarily located in the predominantly Black Maryville/Ashleyville communities is where the incumbent was strongest in the polling, many constituents were confused about who presents them on council. Sakran said it suggests there is room for improvement around building relationships with constituents and communicating the district’s boundaries.
Sakran said two issues in the district are glaring – protecting current homeowners and creating more opportunities for minority residents to buy homes there. He realizes the economic factors involved. As director of Charleston County School District’s Kaleidoscope After School Program, Sakran said he’s keenly aware of the role quality education plays in people’s ability to prosper. Home costs in the downtown district are astronomical said the five-year resident who admits he today couldn’t afford to buy there. The absence of young Black families in the district has to be addressed, he said.