Charleston City Council candidates attempt to win over voters at forum

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 9:47 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 7, 2021 at 11:38 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Three contested seats are up for grabs in less than a month when Charleston voters head to the polls to decide the balance of the city council. Thursday night voters got a chance to hear from candidates in those races during a candidate forum hosted by the local branch of the League of Women Voters.

Technically, half the city council seats are due for re-election but only three – Districts 4, 10 and 12 – have contested races. Incumbent Robert Mitchell is facing Tim Weber for control of District 4 which encompasses the peninsula’s east side. Harry Griffin is trying to hold on to West Ashley’s District 10 against challenger Stephen Bowden. In District 12, incumbent Carol Jackson is facing Caroline Parker on James Island.

Invitations were sent to all six candidates however, Parker was unable to attend. The LWV opted to have the forum with just the four candidates in the other two district with a secondary one-on-one conversation with Jackson after the main forum.

The forum tackled several topics including transportation, affordable housing and flooding. However, it was the discussion around the city’s controversial Equity Inclusion and Racial Reconciliation report that sparked the most heated rhetoric.

“I understand that Mr. Bowden is a public defender, so I don’t know how many murders or rapist or drug addicts or drug pushers he’s helped get off,” Griffin said discussing police funding. “I will never support defund the police. I will never support reparations. What I will do in the private world is I will give anybody a job that wants a job.”

Bowden says he does not support defunding the police or direct payment reparations, but he does support the overall report.

“If you think all my job is is to get people off, it just shows how completely unqualified you are to manage this city going into the future,” Bowden said. “I am extremely disappointed in city council for not choosing themselves to advance these recommendations.”

The District 4 candidates, with voters on Charleston east side, butted heads over the state of affordable housing.

“Affordable housing isn’t really affordable,” Weber said. “People should be able to live where they work but when the costs for affordable housing isn’t much lower than the market rate something needs to change.”

Mitchell, a former Housing and Urban Development certified housing counselor, says they continue to put up more and more affordable housing but the problem lies with HUD.

“The people working in these hospitality industries, they cannot afford to stay in the city,” Mitchell said. “All housing that is being built in the City of Charleston and elsewhere, they use the HUD median area income and until HUD changes the area median income, I don’t think we are going to see housing lower at any time.”

Weber’s number one priority is addressing crime in downtown. He says he lives on the east side and says the city is on track to hit record homicide rates.

“We are track to have the most crime prone year on record since the 1960s,” Weber said. “That’s why I am proposing that we have a violence intervention program where we have trained professions, we work with MUSC and the psychology department and come into violence prone hot spots.”

In his closing statements, Griffin used his time to emphasis flooding issues in West Ashley and what he has been able to in the last four years to dry out flooded land.

“We have created the strictest storm water standards in the history of our city, directly tailors to Church Creek. We approved FEMA buyouts in the most flooded, repeatedly flooded properties in West Ashley,” Griffin said. “I presented a ban on fill and build that ultimately made it into our storm water manual in a lot of ways and we just recently approved a 17.5 acre lake that’s going to have public access.”

Meanwhile, Bowden’s message was one of change.

“I am disappointed that councilman Griffin took his valuable time to prepare zingers against me rather than doing his job,” Bowden said. “We have deadly serious problems in West Ashley. We need somebody who is a professional . . . I don’t want to play politics. I don’t want a career in politics. I want to serve my neighbors.”

The election is Nov.2 with early voting already underway.

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