The Reign of Mayor Joe Riley

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Ten thank you's to go along with ten victory speeches. 36 years in office, going on 40. The numbers are impressive and they tell the story of one man and his reign over Charleston.

Joe Riley was 32 years old when he first won the mayor's seat.

"When I was elected for the first time in 1975 I thought I would serve one term," says Riley.

After winning with 50 percent of the vote in '75 over Nancy Hawk, the lowest percentage of votes he's ever received, he ran unopposed in 1979 and again in 1983.

"Our goal for the next four years is nothing short of making this the greatest and the most golden period of the history of this old and history city that we love so much," said Riley during his 1987 victory speech.
That year he won the election by 81 percent of the vote, the highest percentage he's ever received. His opponent, Roy DeHaven, reeled in 1,764 votes, good for only 18% of the vote. In that election, Riley also set a personal milestone beating his opponent by 62%. 
The golden period Riley mentioned in his 1987 speech may have been about the city but he also may have been foreshadowing his next three elections. Riley ran unopposed in 1991 and received over 70% of the vote in 1995 and again in 1999.
Things changed for Riley in 2003 when he says he met his most formable opponent.

"The hardest election and my toughest opponent and the person I always felt was most qualified," says Riley. "Was Jimmy Bailey."

However, Riley made quick work of Bailey. Beating him by 25%of the vote, that remained the closest margin of victory in all of his 10 elections.

Surprisingly, Bailey's 32% of the vote in 2003 remains the ceiling for Riley contenders.
The year 2003 also began a siege of Riley opposition. For the first time Riley faced more than two opponents. The trend continued all the way through this year's election when the incumbent was challenged four others that collectively took 33% of the vote.
The most votes Riley's ever received was 14,495 in 1995 that crowned him winner over State Representative Ronald Fulmer by a margin of 50%.
But all the numbers considered, Riley still has time on his side. The mayor drove home another and unprecedented 10th term as Charleston's Mayor with 68 percent of the vote this year.
And if the Mayor keeps his promise of not seeking another term, Charleston will never see a candidate beat Joe Riley.

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