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Riley – a political party unto himself!

Lee Walton

Mayor J. Pericles Riley is to be commended for his ninth victorious mayoral campaign. Few municipal politicians in our nation have gained such notoriety; fewer still would seek such an aberrant distinction. In the aftermath of last Tuesday’s election results, the Palter & Chatter editors and other local political analysts continue to pick through the election results like Paleolithic shamans chanting incantations and casting small bones into the dust as they attempt to justify their meaning for those of us deemed less informed or enlightened. The mystic conundrum confronting these self-proclaimed shamans is not what Riley did, but how he did it.

The answer is really quite simple. Seven years ago, Riley eliminated any future threat of organized political opposition by convincing his loyal electorate to change from partisan to nonpartisan elections in the November 2000 referendum. As a consequence of this spurious action, Riley effectively eliminated any future organized challenge to his three-decade dominance of Charleston municipal governance. But for a small change in the dialogue from 7th to 9th term in a recent Wizard of Id comic strip, the runt of a king that dominates that other mythical kingdom had it right – You can fool all the people all the time!

Ever the hypocrite, Riley’s musings in a previous Palter & Chatter commentary in support of nonpartisan municipal elections are tragically comical in retrospect when one evaluates the results of three successive nonpartisan election cycles. In the October 30, 2000 commentary Opposing views on nonpartisan elections, Riley touted the benefits of his self-serving support for nonpartisan elections by stating “Better decisions in favor of the people are one major benefit of a city’s mayor and council members being chosen through nonpartisan elections… Another major benefit is better candidates and broader participation in the electoral process.” In his continued support, Riley assured the citizens of Charleston that “With a nonpartisan system of elections, many more good candidates would become available.” Lastly, Riley touted the nonpartisan election method as “…the proven method of assuring the best decision-making in local government and attracting the best candidates.” In reality, what he’s created is a nearly insurmountable deterrent to any realistic challenge to his stranglehold on Charleston municipal politics.

The consequence of nonpartisan municipal elections have yielded a City Council now dominated by emasculated “rubber stamps” and handpicked sycophants devoid of any original thought or opposing views. This past Council election cycle saw one candidate go unchallenged, two “bought-by-the-pound” minority members reelected on Riley’s coat tail, and two other elected replacements with strong ties to Riley’s Irish Employment Bureau and drawn from the same loyal sack of followers containing those they replaced. So much for “…better candidates and broader participation in the electoral process.”

Riley has had over three decades to amass his political power and cultivate his loyal Irish Employment Bureau whose ranks are flushed with family friends, a select cadre of deal-estate development, loyal sycophants and lock-step supporters of like ethnic persuasion. Consequently, an independent, nonpartisan mayoral challenger confronting Riley’s established campaign organizational structure and nation-wide fund raising machine has no realistic chance to mount a successful challenge. By eliminating the opposing partisan political candidate selection process, party organization support, functional funding mechanisms and established campaign infrastructure, Riley has all but assured his party’s continued dominance of local politics.

Through apathy, indifference and as silent witnesses to the systematic destruction of organized political opposition, the citizens of Charleston have allowed Mayor J. Pericles Riley to single-handily create a unique, local one-party system of municipal governance devoid of healthy dissention or meaningful challenge. To the detriment of all citizens of Charleston, liberals, self-proclaimed socialist and secular progressives now dominate the political forces within the Rileyite Party. Their self-interest and selfish motivations have no tolerance for opposing morality, ethical norms or any tolerance of the loyal opposition that are fundamental, bedrock principles elsewhere in local representative government.

Fortunately for the rest of our state and nation, Riley’s self-made one-party political domination and influence is isolated to the Lowcountry. Mercifully, there is something in the tidal marsh vapors that has rendered him unelectable beyond the bounds of Charleston County.

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