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Riley – a vicarious member of the Senate Judicial Committee
Lee Walton

Mayor J. Pericles Riley’s July 16th Palter and Chatter “Letter to the Editor” supporting the Sotomayer nomination to the U. S. Supreme Court offered yet again another portal into the tormented mind of one that time and circumstance has bid a just farewell. With his executive powers stymied at the Charleston City Line, and his covert influence and back-room political mischief making limited to a few coastal counties, Riley has become a frustrated outsider to Washington politics, vicariously acting out higher national office that he can now only envy or image. His greatest demon now is his own mortal clock, which is rapidly winding down and denying him any real hope for future statewide office or a higher national calling. Try as he might, he’s still just the mayor of a relatively small, albeit historic and unique, southern coastal city that has, for the most part, prospered in spite of his lengthy tenure, not because of it.

As For Riley’s Letter of the 16th “seconding” President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, it’s pathetic that he thinks his personal self-aggrandizement and party-line praise for her will actually make a difference to the Senate Judicial Committee or members of Congress. Then again, Pericles may be just trying to “suck up” to the Obama Administration in another shameless attempt to garner personal recognition beyond the Lowcountry. If Obama tapped a two-time looser like Inez Tannenbaum for a Cabinet post, Riley may still hope that he could get lucky too.

Riley has dreamed all his adult life of becoming a “real player” and running with the Big Dogs in Washington circles “Inside the Beltway”, especially in the Senate or even higher, but he’s never been able to attain sufficient state-wide or national traction to get out of the “pluff-mud” mire he’s created for himself in the Lowcountry. There once was a time in the very early Clinton years that Riley was briefly considered a possible rising star in the left-most liberal wing of the National Democratic Party, but younger, brighter stars and a hard-fighting up-state Lt. Governor named Nick Theodore shattered Riley’s hopes of escaping the political pit he had dug for himself in Charleston. Beyond his own back yard dominated by bought votes and rigged elections, uncommitted up-state voters just didn’t like his patronizing persona or squeaky style. Riley came off as just another untrustworthy politician telling people what he vainly thought they wanted to hear. Try as he might, Riley just couldn’t get enough favorable recognition in statewide voting booths to escape the Lowcountry.

The next few years promise to be tough challenges for Pericles and his “shining city on a hill.” With shops throughout the Peninsula closing daily, West Ashley shopping centers and Daniel Island’s commercial core looking like ghost towns, vacant retail and office space sprouting like crab-grass throughout the City after a summer rain, and tourism struggling, 2010 promises to be the Riley Administration’s greatest challenge in almost four decades. Gone are the heady days of wealthy benefactors “from off” lining up in his reception area jockeying to buy onto socially prominent venue boards or City commission seats. This time around, there is no more playing wizard behind the curtain.

Everyone’s hurting now, and, for Charlestonians, the “Buck” stops on Riley’s desk; his destiny and legacy will be determined by the relative viability of the local economy over the next few years. Then again, Riley could just kickback and dream of being an Al Franken wana’be.

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