Next mayor’s goal should be ‘One Charleston, a city for everyone’ – The Post and Courier Editorial
Oct 20 2015 12:01 am
BY WILLIAM DUDLEY GREGORIE
As an incumbent City Councilman, I am uniquely qualified to be the next mayor of Charleston. My ongoing involvement with city budgets, programs, City Council, the mayor, public and private partners and neighborhood associations puts me in a unique position to guide the city through a stable transition.
If you elect me as mayor of our city I will step into that enormous responsibility not only prepared to understand and execute current programs and Charleston’s future ambitions but also to protect the precious Charleston Brand that is known around the world.
As an incumbent City Councilman, I have consistently demonstrated that I have the courage to lead and build coalitions. I understand budgets and will hold spending within limits and bring projects to fruition. I’ve been a part of a City Council whose fiscal responsibility has continued to maintain the city’s AAA bond rating with no negative audit findings in any of the city departments. All of these qualities are vital to the continued growth of our city and the mayor’s job description.
Charleston’s vested projects will proceed as planned under my leadership. They include the West Ashley Senior Center, extension of the River Walk, the International African American Museum, Colonial Lake, drainage projects, the WestEdge/Horizon project, Magnolia redevelopment, West Ashley future redevelopment, Higgins Pier and Upper Peninsula/Morrison Drive redeployment.
I am no newcomer to public service. For 32 years I served with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C., and in Columbia, where I was the agency’s highest-ranking official in the Palmetto State. In that position, I saw to it that our city benefitted significantly from HUD funding by creating hundreds of jobs, housing and services for local residents.
I have a proven record. After winning a seat on City Council from District Six, I immediately made history as I steered significant sustainable urban development to my district. I am again standing on another historic threshold to write a new chapter in Charleston’s political history and to make my dream of “One Charleston, a city that works for everyone” a reality.
It is more than just a political slogan. As mayor I will expend my energy on a wide range of issues that are as familiar to me as my boyhood home on the Westside of the peninsula. My experience has helped me to prepare a leadership agenda for Charleston.
After taking the oath of office in January, I will use my 32-year experience in housing and community development to place in the pipeline by the end of my first term 500 to 1,000 affordable units in the tri-county. These units will be built near employment centers for all income levels in conjunction with regional partners. In addition I will work regionally to implement a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness. One step toward accomplishing these goals is through jobs and real, livable wages. As a councilman I have supported raising the entry-level wage for city employees to $10.16 an hour. I will approach other public and private entities to voluntarily do the same.
I will create Choice Neighborhoods that transform distressed neighborhoods into viable and sustainable mixed-income communities linked with appropriate services, schools, public assets, transportation and access to jobs.
We must continue to grow our economy, especially in the technology sector so that we can truly become a Silicon Harbor. We have already seen the success of our city’s Flagship Technology Incubator that has yielded tech companies such as People Matter and Boomtown. As mayor I will continue this economic development effort to diversify business opportunities.
Transportation and land use planning are high priorities for me. Over the next decade the region will continue to experience tremendous growth. As a result, we must protect our natural resources and rural lands. We must be serious about transportation infrastructure needs to serve a region of one million people. We must develop better rapid, public transit and employ new technologies. And we must built rapid transit to connect Charleston with other Southeastern cities. In the short term, however, we will need a robust regional plan to realistically and appropriately fund public transit and encourage the state and the county to look at all options related to I-526. But not all transportation requires a rapid movement of masses of people. Some transportation is slow by nature, such as bikes and the simple act of walking. We must focus on pedestrian and bike paths, bike rack improvements and other recommendations as outlined in the Mobility Plan prepared by urban planner Gabe Klein.
Public safety is an essential element to sustain and improve the quality of life for all Charlestonians and visitors. We need to re-educate our citizens to assist police in making their communities safer, and give our police officers the tools to prevent and solve crimes along with the ability to expand to accommodate our growth. The same holds true for our Fire Department, which under this current City Council regained its accreditation.
I would create an office of education that would seek funding and work with community-based organizations to provide early childhood and childhood subsidies so single mothers and families can be assured of high-quality early childhood education. We must use the city’s influences to tap into the engineering, science, art and mathematics communities to emphasize the STEAM program for not just minority students but for all of our children with a focus on girls in particular.
I will continue to implement the vision, community and heritage policies in the 2007 40-year preservation plan adopted by the city that suggest updates to the city’s preservation ordinance to reflect contemporary concepts of preservation. In addition, I will implement the goals and objectives of the 2015 Tourism Management Plan to maintain the critical balance between Charleston’s residential quality of life and the tourism economy, while preserving Charleston’s authenticity and sense of place. If we do otherwise, we’ll run the risk of looking like every other city in the country. I pledge to be a responsible steward and not allow that to happen to our city. I will ensure that the city’s growth is controlled and assimilated into appropriate areas. We must offer tax incentives to assist businesses to remain in their locations and allow them to continue to have a seat at the table of prosperity.
As mayor I will prepare a transition plan with input from the business community, neighborhoods and citizens to protect the Charleston Brand. Anything short of this could be chaotic with negative effects on preservation, livability, growth and economic prosperity — locally, regionally and globally.
The recent record-setting rainfall reminds us that drainage will consistently be a problem in low-lying Charleston. I am not a newcomer to this and other issues. As mayor I will complete all existing drainage projects. As funding permits, I will continue to implement other stormwater improvements, increase investment in drainage efforts and apply necessary updates to the Master Drainage and Flood Plain Management Plan.
Disaster preparedness and recovery experience are essential for the mayor’s office. Having worked in emergency management for several disasters across the country, including hurricanes Hugo and Katrina, I will be ready from day one to provide disaster management for our city, if necessary.
Diversity and inclusion are essential to Charleston’s future. Promoting minority- and women-owned businesses will remain my focus. I will establish a level playing field for these businesses through business incubators. Tax incentives and zoning bonuses to developers that provide affordable commercial space to these businesses are important options.
Taken as a whole, my vision for Charleston embraces my dream of “One Charleston, a city that works for everyone.” If I am fortunate to be your next mayor, I want my legacy to reflect my vision for the present and beyond. I want every citizen to feel as though they are part of this wonderful city we call home. For too long, Charleston has only been thought of as just the peninsula. James Island, Johns Island, Daniel Island, West Ashley, Daniel Island and parts of Cainhoy deserve to have their concerns addressed with the same vigor that we tackle issues downtown.
The tragedy at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church recently brought us all together as a community. I have been touched by the support extended to me for the loss we suffered at Emanuel, my home church. That tragedy tested us all and in that moment of sorrow I was tested, too. I have bonded with others who are helping Emanuel and all of us heal.
I have been tested on City Council, too, and now I am ready to step onto a much larger stage to complete the “Mayor and Council’s Vision” while implementing “change.” It will be a delicate balancing act, but I know I am able to move Charleston forward as a world-class treasure, and as “ONE CHARLESTON.”