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Of ships and sails and sealing wax, …and (men who would be) kings

Warwick Jones

Who they are we do not know. But their hands are busily turning the spindles and creating a web - exceedingly tangled to better achieve their immediate purpose of catching and deposing Mayor Riley. Their purpose beyond his deposition is murky.

The spider on the web is Council member Dudley Gregorie who has been chosen to deliver the fateful bite on Election Day. This is Council member Gregorie’s second shot at running for Mayor. Although we doubt his bite will be politically fatal for Mayor Riley, it is likely to be bruising. The money that is being spent on candidate Gregorie’s campaign officially and unofficially must be a multiple of that spent on his first campaign. Indeed, we would not be surprised if spending this time round exceeds that of the Mayor.

We ask, as do the Mayor and others, where is the money coming from? The answer we surmise is from those opposed to cruise ships and the Union Pier Plan. This opposition comprises some downtown neighborhood associations in particularly that representing “Below Broad”, the City’s major preservation groups and the Coastal Conservation League. The preservationists and CCL may be cheering Candidate Gregorie’s purpose but we would be surprised if they were contributing to his campaign. But certainly individuals that belong to these groups are likely financial supporters.

Is it the cruise ship issue that is driving most of Candidate Gregories supporters? It may well be. The opposition by some to the City’s policy on cruise ships has been intense, though in our view, mostly confined to the downtown neighborhood associations and preservationists. The intensity is surprising in our view in that their main demand – to codify the present agreement between the City and the State Ports Authority - alters nothing in terms of cruise activity. The opposition is happy to limit cruise ship visits to 104 a year and the ships to no more than 3500 passengers as per the present agreement but wants this codified. The City says that it can’t be, as it would transgress State and Federal Law. But this is not enough, the opponents say. And instead of accepting a difference, they want war!

Even if codification were legally possible, will it make a difference? Any legislation affecting cruise ships could still be changed by future Councils. So any code written now is not in stone.

We won’t detail the blows struck in the cruise ship battle. But note that as the opponents have delivered their blows, they have frequently sunk to hyperbole and untruths. Is this a measure of their desperation to achieve victory? They certainly were able to sway some of the local politicians to support them, at least for a few days. It seemed more than a coincidence that, within a few weeks of each other, Senators Ford and Campsen and Representative Limehouse issued statements supporting the codifying of cruise ship visits and sizes. Senator Ford changed his mind soon after realizing that many of his constituents disagreed with him. Campsen and Limehouse have since been silent on the issue. Could it be they are at odds with the State Governor who supports the City? Or have they fulfilled their obligation to some well-heeled constituents with token support?

It is clear that the anti-cruise ship folk have purpose and clout. They have enough of both to support a mayoral candidate to oppose Mayor Riley. Why candidate Gregorie? Maybe they thought he was a better candidate than the others, or more sympathetic to their purpose, or perhaps more malleable.

We hesitate to use the adjective “malleable”. But it now seems appropriate - appropriate because a group that supports him has made some very challenging statements in recent days that candidate Gregorie has neither questioned nor repudiated. Marc Knapp referred to them in his comment on the last City Council meeting in Charlestonwatch.com. The silence of Candidate Gregorie on these flyers leads us to question his credibility and perhaps his independence.

If asked, we would describe candidate Gregorie as a competent member of City Council, and his own person. Yes, he is prone to long speeches and preening. He is often a critic of the Mayor but his questions are always asked with respect. He never has spoken of any political party affiliation but he has walked and talked like a Democrat. And nobody thought otherwise until now.

The flyers that have been mailed out in the last few days have sought to create an image of the candidate as a Republican. One of the flyers described him as a “Reagan Conservative”, “A sharp contrast to the Obama – Riley Agenda”, “A veteran of the Reagan Administration”. The flyer also had a prominent image of President Reagan. The flyers certainly caused us to have second thoughts about the candidate - though not about his political party affiliation. We can understand that in these times, politicians seek to identify with President Reagan. But is this case, the Republican re-imaging just does not work. In fact it seems fatuous.

As Mr. Knapp said, one of the claims may be factually true but requires too much spin. “A veteran of the Reagan Administration”? The Administration ended in 1989, twenty-two years ago. Candidate Gregorie may well have worked for HUD at the time but only as a staff member and not as a Reagan appointee. If he were a veteran of the Reagan Administration, then he is also a veteran of the Clinton and Carter Administrations.

Mayor Riley has spoken and the Post and Courier has written about the loophole in the state law that has allowed the “Citizens for A Better Charleston” to send out flyers without acknowledging the authors or financing sources. We share their critical view. But we go further.

There are two alternatives. Candidate Gregorie was either aware or unaware of the terms used in the flyers. He says he was unaware. This may be true. But his silence and failure to distance himself from the descriptions are damning in our view.

We have no issue with Candidate Gregorie if he has sympathy/association with the Democratic Party. Indeed, City elections are supposed to be politically non-partisan. And ostensibly they are. We would also opine that any sympathy/association would have made little difference in this election. In that belief, I would have expected the candidate to repudiate some of the phrases and descriptions in the flyers. I also believe that he would be most uncomfortable with these descriptions. With his implied repudiation of the Democratic Party, he will alienate many supporters, particularly in his council district.

So the question is why did the candidate allow the descriptions to stand if he knew about them? Or why didn’t he repudiate then when he first saw the flyers? Could it be that he is nearly wholly dependant on these financial backers for funding his campaign? Does he not have the power or the will to stand up to them? Does the end justify the means? More importantly, what does this mean should candidate Gregorie become Mayor? An alliance between Mayor Gregorie and “below Broad? We doubt that it would resolve the cruise ship issues or anything else. Importantly, after having apparently opportunistically switched his political party allegiance, he also may have find himself with a Council that is more scornful of his leadership than supportive of it.

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