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Pericles – Puppet Master, Playwright, Director and Itinerate Actor

Lee Walton

While recently flipping through the channels during a break in the Winter Olympics, I stumbled upon the local public broadcast station airing, of all things, Richard Todd’s interview of Charleston’s own Mayor J. Pericles Riley. As is often the case with Riley’s one-on-one interviews, he was in his element, flailing his arms and squeaking in high nasal tones about the countless benefits and world-class wonders of his promised Calhoun/East Bay/Concord Redevelopment Plan. As is also more frequently the case, Todd pitched him one underhanded soft ball after another and joined the ranks of countless other reporters intimidated by near forty-years of Riley’s imperial reign.

Notwithstanding his same old shop-worn song-and-dance explanations about the benefits of the future multi-story, one-hundred room hotels to be built within walking distance of his foundering Acropolis-by-the-Sea, it was still entertaining to watch Riley’s all-too familiar mannerisms and hear again his rewound dialogues used to defend his demented visions of Charleston’s future. But one fact remains timeless after Riley’s nearly four-decades in office - he’s a tireless actor and the producer and director of countless financial scams played upon the hapless citizens of this fair city.

Riley’s executive department, senior department heads, and most of his administrative staff would rival Hollywood with their many talents and diverse production accomplishments including countless musicals, morality plays, mystery thrillers, sequels, and who-done-its to their credit.

Riley’s back-lot of theatrical professionals includes world-class scriptwriters, make-up artists, stunt men, editors, production managers, bit players, grips, prop managers, and best boys by the dozens. His legal staff and financial managers can hide tens-of-millions in wasteful spending in over-budget productions that would make any of the leading Hollywood studio owner’s envious. In reality, the Riley Administration is a tight-knit, clandestine union of villains, cads, gadflies, and pontificators all sworn to serve Pericles and his handpicked stable of deal-estate development cronies. One need look no further than Calhoun Street east of Meeting to read the credits for the cast of characters in Riley’s coming attraction planned for Ansonborough Field and the surrounding neighborhoods.

Tragically, Pericles has now added the once independent and outspoken Historic Charleston Foundation to his theatrical supporters and gadfly bit-players. HCF’s recent willingness to do Riley’s bidding by endorsing what not too long ago would have been unthinkable, is the unfortunate harbinger of its future support and complicity in other covert activities for Riley’s benefit. The weakening and acquiescence of this former defender of Charleston’s historic preservation efforts and unique southern charm brings peninsula Charleston one step closer to becoming just another mediocre movie-set façade of a once viable, livable community with an enviable quality of life.

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