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League of Women Voters Forum
Candidates for City Council define the issues
Warwick Jones

Given both the limited time and the nature of the forum, candidates up for election for three of the City Council seats could only comment generally on issues. Candidates were limited to 90 seconds for opening comments and 60 seconds for closing comments. In between, they were asked to address questions from both the League of Women Voters, which hosted the Forum, and written questions from the audience. As they had to be answered by each candidate regardless of District, the questions could not be district specific. The only exception was the question from the League asking candidates to name the 3 most vital issues affecting their communities.

The incumbent Council members performed best
We thought that Council members Jimmy Gallant (District 5) and James Lewis (District 3) outshone their opponents. Both have been Council members for a number of terms and their experience showed in dealing with issues, and in eloquence. It could be similarly said of Ernie Long (District 1) who though not a Council member, has served on a number of City Committees and was President of the Charlestown Neighborhood Association. Erika Harrison (District 3) and Gary White (Distric1) were perhaps as eloquent as their opponents but they both spoke as though they were running for Mayor. For example, Ms. Harrison may consider herself qualified for leadership and to lead the City in fostering cooperation with neighboring municipalities to control development. But the reality is that as a member of the City Council, she would have a back seat to the Mayor, a fact that has restrained the good intention of many Council members.

What are the major issues for your district?
On the major issues facing each of their districts, the candidates were generally in agreement. Those running for District 3 thought the issue of drainage was most important and spoke of the long time that had elapsed in getting work started. They also thought a better effort was needed in combating crime, with more police on the streets and on foot or bikes. Council member Lewis also thought that the Mayor had too much power and that citizens should have more control over policy. Luqman Rasheed (District 3) thought that more effort needed to be made to employ our youth.

Candidates for District 5 also thought that the drainage was the major issue. Council member Gallant noted the formidable cost of near $100 million. He added that he and Council member Lewis had played a major role in securing Federal funding. Leroy Connors thought a major issue was education and the poor schools. He linked this with what he saw as the third important issue - crime. If our youth were better educated, then the level of crime would fall. He also called for the provision of more recreation facilities for the youth of the City. Council member Gallant also noted the problem of crime and called for more foot patrols. He later agreed with Mr. Connors in relation to recreation facilities and spoke of the mentoring he does with youth in his district.

The candidates for District 1 had some differences in ranking issues. Ernie Long said the top issue was representation. In his opinion, the District had inadequate representation in the past and he vowed this would change with his election. He then noted the quality of life issue – too much traffic and tourists, and the need to address some shortcomings in the Tourism Ordinance. Gary White ranked traffic and tourists as the top problem, followed by issues related to economic development – disparity in wages, and the high cost of real estate in the City. The need for more parks and playgrounds was also an issue.

What would you do to restrain gentrification?
All the candidates agreed that little could be done about gentrification. All supported the idea of providing more “affordable housing” but only Council members Gallant and Lewis made suggestions for increasing its provision. Council member Gallant thought that lending institutions should be taken to task for holding back loans to poor folk while Council member Lewis thought that developers should be tasked to provide more “affordable housing” in their proposed projects. In a rare moment of hostility, Erika Harrison in a reference to her opponent said that she would never vote against an “affordable housing” project. Council member Lewis, who has been the most aggressive of Council members in seeking “affordable housing”, noted his opposition to the Ansonborough Field development because there was inadequate provision for “affordable housing”. What was being provided could not be defined as “affordable” and contrary to what he and other Council members thought would be provided.

What extra measures are needed to fight crime?
Many candidates applauded the efforts of Police Chief Mullen who has been on the job now for over 12 months. Most candidates thought that there should be more foot patrols but Council member Lewis noted that some measures had just been introduced by the police and we should wait on the results. Erika Harrison suggested that sub stations should be erected around the City.

How can the City encourage regional planning?
All agreed that the City should encourage regional planning and that there should be cooperation between the entities of the region. Gary White noted that it was a part of his platform. Leroy Connors suggested that citizens were discouraged by the lack of planning in the past. Erika Harrison said there was a need to connect communities and Council member Gallant said that the State needed to plan for expanding I-26.

How will you work with other Council members?
Listen and cooperate with each other, be sensitive to others’ issues summarizes comments by the candidates. The two Council members noted that the Mayor can often undo efforts by Council members who join together over a single issue

What Can the City do to improve education?
Some candidates suggested the need for better communication between the City and the School board. Leroy Connors suggested that there was little contact presently. Councilmember Lewis suggested a committee of citizens and Council members be formed by the City to work with the School board.

Is tourism becoming a problem and what should be done to restrain it?
All candidates agreed that tourism was good for the community and as Council member Lewis noted, there were going to be more tourists with 7 new hotels in the works. Erik Harrison noted that tourism had also created problems for Charleston – a disparity in wages, and high real estate values that drove low wage earners off the Peninsula. Council member Lewis thought the some of the Accommodation Fee revenue should be used to provide “affordable housing”. Ernie Long acknowledged that the quality of life for downtown residents had deteriorated in recent years and the Tourism ordinance needed to revisited.

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