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McLeod Plantation - Riley’s political Hot Potato

Lee Walton

Given the amount of editorial space recently devoted to the future fate of McLeod Plantation by the Palter and Chatter editorial staff, there are obviously folk up on the third floor of that mystical Columbus Street bastion that really want this old long ignored and longer neglected plantation saved for public posterity. Last Sunday’s feature editorial, “Put McLeod in public realm” was the latest is a string of supportive editorials seeking to motivate the Historic Charleston Foundation to accept the recent proposal offered by the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission. This latest editorial came the closest yet to publicly cajoling the HCF by reminding its board, staff and supporters of its mission to “preserve and protect the integrity of Charleston’s architectural, historical and cultural heritage” - including McLeod Plantation. That being said, they then gracefully pirouetted away from the 800-pound gorilla, or more correctly a 135-pound shrimp, sitting square in the middle of Charleston City Council Chambers. The fate of McLeod Plantation will not be settled until Mayor J. Pericles Riley can figure out a way to rid himself of this political Hot Potato and not a moment before.

It was very interesting to note from the latest editorial that, except for James Island Mayor Woolsey and the Town Council and earlier, the James Island Public Service District Commission, neither of the Charleston City Council members quoted as supportive of PRC’s acquisition of McLeod “have any skin in the game” – mainly theirs. Strangely, none of the elected officials who represent the constituents from the City, County or State House and Senate in the respective districts that encompass McLeod Plantation have publicly taken a position supportive of PRC’s offer. Where is City Council member Gary White? How about County Council candidates Amy Fabri and Joe Qualey, State House District 115 Anne Petersen Hutto and her challenger Solicitor Peter McCoy? Last but not least, where is State District 43 Senator Chip Campsen? All of these elected officials actually represent constituents that reside near McLeod Plantation. Unlike Wilson and Hallman, they actually “have skin in the game” – mainly theirs. Apparently, there are some well motivated, well connected and well healed supporters in these voting districts that don’t take kindly to the idea of McLeod Plantation being open to the public as a historic, cultural tourist attraction or similar publicly accessible venue.

Riley’s known of opposition to a publicly accessible McLeod for years and has heard the undercurrents of opposition from up close and afar. That’s why he was previously very supportive of the abortive efforts of both the American College of the Building Arts and the College of Charleston. Riley gleans significant financial and ballot support from many wealthy constituents residing cheek-to-jowl with McLeod, so do many of the other all too silent elected or would be elected officials named above.

There comes a time in the career of every elected politician when they must make a decision that may not be in their immediate best interest, but will be in the best interest of countless future generations to come. Supporting PRC’s acquisition of McLeod is the right decision – just have the intestinal fortitude to do it.

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