Mayoral Candidate Q&A - Part 2
In this week’s issue, we bring you two additional questions posed by Moderator Steve Ferber at The Daniel Island News Mayoral Candidate Forum on September 17, along with the candidates’ responses. Seeking Charleston’s top executive post are Ginny Deerin, William Dudley Gregorie, Toby Smith, Leon Stavrinakis, John Tecklenburg, and Maurice Washington. The Mayoral election will be held on November 3, with a likely run-off on November 17.
Q: Fast forward to the year 2027, and you just completed your third term in office…In your farewell address to the citizens of Charleston, you share your three major achievements during the prior 12 years. What are those three major achievements? Please be as specific as possible.
Maurice Washington: “That we are a top tier city that is the most livable for our citizens, that we are a top 5 city that is the safest for our citizens in America, and that we are recognized as a top 10 city that is best for education in America. Those three goals I’d want to reflect back on and say you know what, I played a role in it. And I think again education is the cornerstone, it is the key of economic development, quality of life, and livability of our neighborhoods. It all rests on the quality of the education of today’s children. They represent our future.”
William Dudley Gregorie: “By 2027, we would be able to say that I’ve accomplished establishing an Office of Education tied directly to the Mayor’s office to make sure that our citizens who are our students are getting a quality education…The other thing that I want to make sure of is that we have gotten the affordability issue at hand. As your children try to move into places, the cost is exorbitant. I want to be the mayor that will build affordable housing for the people of this city. I’m a HUD (Housing and Urban Development) veteran. I know how to do it, so I have committed to 1000 affordable units by the end of my term, but by 2027 we may be talking about 2,000 or 3,000!”
Leon Stavrinakis: “I would want to say to the citizens of Charleston that we not only maintained but we enhanced and expanded the incredible quality of life and prosperity that so many of us in Charleston enjoy to everyone in this community, and we did it by solving our transportation challenges and growth management challenges so that prosperity can continue without choking us or itself out of existence. That we created answers to an education system that is failing, systemically failing generations of young people, particularly poor young children in the Charleston area. That we took care of that and solved it and created for them the opportunities that all of us want our children to have in order to pursue their life’s dream. And finally, that I delivered to the next mayor a really safe city, and as a former prosecutor that’s really important to me, and a city where taxes are low. As someone who has balanced 17 budgets and cut taxes that’s important to me as well.”
Toby Smith: “Two terms would be it for this girl! I would want to see a…revitalized east side so that people slow down to enjoy it and they can…get through it. I would like to see West Ashley re-emerge. The Citadel Mall was a beautiful place to hang out. We had a West Ashley Town Center. And I would like to see that we close the achievement gap with respect to education and that children of all color are working those jobs at the Charleston Digital Corridor making $80,000 coming out the gate, where they had homes that were affordable…”
John Tecklenburg: “I would want to thank the citizens for allowing me the opportunity to serve, first of all. One, to bring my business background to bear on making Charleston safe…but also having our basic city services running efficiently in a city that is growing. Secondly, to have been the leader in regional issues, that our region really needs to work on, and that’s our educational system, our public transit system, our highway system, and our housing opportunities here. But most important, the thing that I would be most proud of, is that 12 years ago we responded as a community in such unity and love and compassion to a tragedy that occurred, and we’ve shown the world in the next 12 years how a community stayed together, worked together, solved community problems and was an example to the world in how a community can get along.”
Ginny Deerin: “It would not be 2027, it would be 2023, because I don’t plan to serve more than two terms. And I would be showing you a picture of Clements Ferry Road. It would be beautiful, it would be multi-modal, public transit, bikes…I-526 would be completed. We would have new bridges on the Wappoo and on the Legare, and we would have a ferry service that would be going from Daniel Island over to the Peninsula with record rates of passengers…in 1996, I found WINGS for KIDS. I began to create it and people were like ‘that’s crazy, that’s impossible, never gonna happen,’ and in fact it did. It’s a very effective after school program and it will be this type of work ethic and attitude that I would bring to the mayor’s office.”
Q4: Around the country, cities and states are now taking steps to raise the minimum wage. Here in Charleston, Mr. Gregorie has proposed raising the entry level rate for city employees, and he has said he will try to convince public and private entities in the city to do the same voluntarily. Should the city of Charleston raise the minimum wage for its employees and if so what should the figure be?
William Dudley Gregorie: “First of all, my colleague is here, Council Member White, and we’ve already raised the entry level salaries of all city employees to $10.60 a hour. That’s a done deal. What I would attempt to do is try to make sure that other municipalities follow suit as well as the private sector…But again I go back to it is very important that we educate our children so that they will be able to compete for higher wage jobs where the minimum wage is not the issue. As we move forward with our knowledge-based economy, and I am on the board of the Horizon Foundation, where we are developing a billion dollar knowledge based economy on the Peninsula, as well as expanding our digital corridor, we just need to make sure our children have the skill set so they’ll be able to compete, and the minimum wage would not really be an issue at that point.”
Toby Smith: “I am in complete agreement with everything that Mr. Gregorie said and thank you very much for already having done it.”
John Tecklenburg: “I think it was appropriate to raise the city minimum wage and I applaud you and Council Member White for doing that. One of the issues we have in Charleston is there is kind of an affordability gap. We earn as an average in this region about 80% of the national income, but our housing costs are well over 120% of the national average, and in the City of Charleston it’s even more than that. So, we’ve got folks working in the city, particularly who are working in the hospitality business, who are barely making a living wage, and on top of that we’ve got the housing costs that are higher than the national averages, and not a decent way for them to use public transit, so there is a real affordability gap here in Charleston. We do need to raise those basic wages, but work on housing costs at the same time.”
Ginny Deerin: “When caregivers are paid a wage that does not allow them to take care of their families at home we have a real problem and so Council Members White and Gregorie thank you for providing leadership from the city to raise that wage. I think that in Charleston, we like to think of ourselves as a city that is top notch, world class, now so much all over the country we are seen as being kind, and generous, and responsible, and supportive. I think that it is only in keeping (with that) that we as a community encourage our private businesses, and so many of them, particularly the larger ones, are already raising their minimum wage.”
Maurice Washington: “Given that the cost of living in Charleston is out of alignment with wages, and utility costs are higher here than they are in Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Charlotte, Savannah, Greenville, as well as utility costs, food costs, transportation costs, housing costs, all higher here than they are in other places, I applaud too the leadership of Council to act in a very responsible way. However, I personally believe education is key and investing in our citizen, investing in workforce development and not putting that particular burden to the private sector. So I would personally lead through education, workforce development and investing in the citizens of Charleston as a way and means of moving wages in the right direction.”
Leon Stavrinakis: “As a member and chairman of Charleston County Council and as a member of the state legislature, we adjusted employee pay in the county. As chairman I created a rule that we would absolutely not have a single full time employee in the county…making a wage that kept his family below the poverty line. That was unacceptable that they work for this amazing community and would then go home and face a family living below the poverty level. So we did that. We did it at the state level. We raised employee wages and also health benefits and we did it all without raising taxes and balancing budgets. For the private sector, as an elected official I have always made my agenda our community’s agenda. Whatever our community needs, when the Chamber came to us to show us that we have a huge wage disparity that exacerbates our traffic problems and we have jobs available in high paying knowledge industries, port industries, manufacturing industries, that aren’t being filled because people don’t have the training and education degrees we need, I went to work to create more advanced higher education degrees and a training facility at Trident Tech so that our citizens could go get jobs that will pay wages that their families can live well on.”
Look for additional questions and answers from the candidates in next week’s issue of The Daniel Island News.