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Charleston’s Deal-Estate Development Complex – an Elite Ruling Class

Lee Walton

The Elitist Doctrine holds that in any society, a minority ruling class makes the principal decisions. In democratic societies this small ruling class most often attains power and sustains itself and its individual members through monopolizing the skills and resources necessary to protect, create and enhance the individual wealth of its members. Once entrenched in a particular sector of the economy, this elite class cannot be controlled by the majority, even through normal democratic means, due to the power, organization, political skill, and individual abilities of its members. Its strength lies in its ability to dictate the terms of admission into its ranks by establishing the rules of conformity through social origin, race, religion, profession and often marriage. Given a favorable economic environment in which to thrive, members of this elite ruling class often amass great wealth, influence and create wide economic gaps between themselves and other less organized factions of local society. Over the past three decades the buying, selling and development of real estate in the Greater Charleston Area has lead to the creation of an autonomous ruling elite that now controls the primary engine of wealth in the Lowcountry – the Deal-Estate Development Complex.

Just who are the members of this elite class? It’s big, both horizontally and vertically integrated, immensely complex and often ruthless in its ability to protect itself and its most elite members. The Complex draws its select membership from a broad cross-section of the local economy, primarily from the core professions within the Greater Charleston Chamber of Commerce including realtors, bankers, a wide variety of contractors, architects, engineers, appraisers, material suppliers, advertisement, the print and broadcast media, the legal profession and more than a few select politicians.

As a rule, its most prominent current members are given entry as a birthright as siblings of former influential members, having inherited the wealth, status and influence of past generations. More often than not, its more well-borne members seldom seek political office, instead choosing to select lesser, ambitious, albeit subservient, members from its ranks to become political standard bearers for the Complex and whose survival is dependant upon the continued patronage of the most wealthy and elite of the Deal-Estate Development Complex. Charleston’s own Mayor Riley is at the apex of local political members groomed, selected, elected and continuously supported by the most powerful and influential of this elite ruling class.

How does this elite ruling class protect, create and enhance the individual wealth of its members? Primarily by controlling those who have control of the public purse, public utilities and those who create and enforce land use and zoning regulations impacting real estate development throughout the Lowcountry. This control is primarily exercised by controlling the mother’s milk of politics – money. If one doubts this, simply go to the public library and review the S.C. Ethics Commission campaign filings of the most development friendly and most often reelected local politicians. Not surprisingly, the names of the same heavy contributors and prominent members of the elite Deal-Estate Development Complex appear over and over again like a list of who’s who in influencing local politics.

Lastly, this elite ruling class of deal-estate developers could not exist without the continued cooperation of its most influential members, the owners and senior editors of the Palter & Chatter.

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