CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - John Tecklenburg took the oath of office Monday on the steps of City Hall, becoming the first new mayor in Charleston in four decades.
Outgoing Mayor Joe Riley, who served since 1975, looked on as Tecklenburg took that oath.
"I want to personally thank the citizens of Charleston for this incredible opportunity that I have to serve," Tecklenburg said after the oath. "What an honor to become mayor of my hometown. It is at the same time humbling and exciting."
He began his speech with an acknowledgment of his mother, a former Charleston City Council member who he said introduced him to city politics, campaigning and government.
He also paid tribute to Riley, first joking he had found the "big shoes" he was told he would have to fill in following Riley, producing a pair of oversized clown shoes he said he found in Riley's office. Riley explained the shoes were from a Ronald McDonald House promotional photo shoot.
Tecklenburg then presented the former mayor with a plaque to which a gavel from council chambers was mounted and thanked him for his service to the city.
"History will record that you are a giant, and history will be right," Tecklenburg said of Riley. Tecklenburg praised Riley for leading Charleston with "courage, grace and dignity."
"Never before in our city's history has a mayor taken office at a moment so rich with the promise of a better, brighter future for all its citizens," he said. "We must only have the will and the wisdom to work together to claim that promise. Everywhere we look, from James and Johns Island, from Daniel Island to the Peninsula, we see that promise ready to unfold. Already our residents, neighborhoods and businesses and others have begun to come together around a vision of a future of Charleston, a city of opportunity for all who live here."
"As remarkable as the last 40 years have been, a great city does not rest on its laurels," he said after Riley joined his wife, Charlotte, in the audience. "And as we gather here today to begin a new chapter in Charleston history, there is much work to be done, work that we should and must do together."
"First, we must tackle the problems that have come with our success, particularly in the areas of livability and quality of life," he said. "From traffic to tourism, from recreation to redevelopment, from public safety to public engagement and transparency, we face challenges that we can only solve by coming together around a responsible and robust plan of action."
Tecklenburg said he had already met with Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen and Fire Chief Karen Brack as well as other public safety officials to "ensure that the city of Charleston is doing all we can do to keep our citizens safe and secure," what he referred to as the number one job of government.
"It is why today immediately following this ceremony and reception I will convene a meeting of city officials to jumpstart the redevelopment and revitalization of West Ashley," Teckenburg said. "It is why following that meeting I will place calls to regional leaders to further our efforts to complete I-526. And in the days ahead I will be working directly with city council and citizens to discuss flooding and sea level rise, to improve our public transit system and safety for pedestrians and cyclists; to achieve sustainable growth while protecting our environment, to improve the delivery of basic city services, to grow our knowledge based business and technology businesses and support small business; to help empower our brothers and sisters in need including our homeless citizens; to build upon our rich cultural heritage and arts and music; to add parks and beautify the public realm and so much more. And no matter what neighborhood issue or opportunity comes along always striving to improve the quality of life for our citizens."
Tecklenburg said the second challenge to be faced over the next four years is insuring "real meaningful opportunities" for all of the people of Charleston.
"We must and will work across communities and jurisdictions to end disparities of education which is the great equalizer, to provide more affordable housing in our city," he said. "To seek social and economic justice and more. And yes we must address these disparities that have kept too many of our citizens and our residents from reaching their full potential and from enjoying the quality of life that we want for all of our citizens."
"So here in this unfolding story of Charleston's history, with a promise of a hopeful future let us challenge ourselves this day to accept any test or trial and respond with excellence and enlightenment, to be open and inclusive, to show that good citizens working together collaboratively can tackle any challenge," he said. "To show that with faith in god and love in our hearts that we will be an example to the world, not just in the wake tragedy as Charleston has already done so beautifully, but in our actions going forward."
Tecklenburg challenged Charleston to be "an example to the world of how folks work together."
"That's how we truly earn the name of the Holy City," he said. "That's the sacred honor up[on which our country's founders idealized, and upon which we build upon and continue to strive."
Retired Judge Richard Fields administered the oath of office for the new mayor. Tecklenburg administered the oath of office to new Charleston City Council members, explaining that retired South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal, who had been scheduled to administer their oath, was not able to attend the ceremony because of the birth of her grandchild.
Prior to Tecklenburg's oath, Riley spoke on the mayor-elect, who he says he has known since Tecklenburg was a child.
"This amazing wonderful leader that citizens of Charleston have so wisely selected to lead us," Riley said. "His heart is pure. Completely. His Character is solid. His intellect is brilliant and creative and inquisitive. He's kind and inclusive. He will be a most wonderful leader for all of us. For you, and for me. I'm so pleased to personally, and officially congratulate John Tecklenburg."
On Tuesday, Tecklenburg will preside over his first council meeting with a full agenda on the plate. He said last week he was already spending time with the fire and police chiefs.
With a new chapter in Charleston soon to be written, Tecklenburg will take on old projects like West Ashley's revitalization initiative and I-526 construction, all things he says he's fully committed to seeing to completion.
"All of the issues and projects that come before me, I'll be asking the question, 'How does this impact our citizen's quality of life in our city?'" he said.
Tecklenburg's five-point plan for the Holy City includes efforts to improve livability and quality of life; transportation and public transit; economy and job growth; city services and the various neighborhoods in the city.
Tecklenburg said his plan tackles issues that include more community policing, an economic development plan to revitalize West Ashley and a one year moratorium on new hotels in downtown Charleston.
Tecklenburg has said he wants to revitalize West Ashley in the same manner upper King Street was revitalized when he was economic development director under Mayor Joe Riley.
He said he also wants to do a closer study of the city's zoning laws in the wake of the controversial Sgt. Jasper redevelopment and the gathering place rezoning on Maybank Highway.
Outgoing Mayor Joe Riley was sworn in to office in December, 1975, making him one of nation's longest-serving mayors.
Ahead of the swearing-in, police closed off Broad Street from Church Street to Meeting Street at 8:30 a.m. and Broad Street from Church Street to King Street and Meeting Street from Queen to Tradd at 11 a.m. These streets are expected to reopen by 3 p.m.
At 6:30, an inaugural concert will be held in the Gaillard Performance Hall. After that, another reception will be held in the Gaillard's grand ballroom.