A Moment with our Mayor

One year after taking office Tecklenburg’s optimism on full display at DI Speakers Series

By Charlie Morrison
A record crowd of more than four hundred sat patiently in the ballroom at the Daniel Club for the latest installment of the Daniel Island Speaker’s Series last Wednesday night, when all of a sudden the ballroom piano sprang to life with sound. At first, few noticed the man behind the keys was none other than Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, but before long the room hushed and the audience, now rapt, collectively took in the sights and sounds of the musical Mayor en masse.

Fresh off his first “State of the City” address which he’d delivered the night before, an address built around the dual themes of optimism and unity, Tecklenburg was upbeat when he strode to the ballroom stage to address the group. That much could be heard as well as seen, after all Tecklenburg had just delivered a rendition of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”

Welcomed to the Speaker’s Series for the second time, Tecklenburg opened his address by giving the room his updated assessment of where Charleston stands in 2017, following what was his first full year in office. Following a brief welcome from event host Steve Slifer and an introduction from longtime Daniel Island resident and Tecklenburg family friend Sally Castangara, Tecklenburg took to the microphone.

“I’m very optimistic about our City’s future I know we have challenges and things to work on, but the future of the City of Charleston is really bright,” began Tecklenburg, the 61st Mayor of Charleston, before turning to the City’s spirit of resilience. “There was never a better test of our resilience and our sense of unity than the terrible tragedy a year-and-a-half ago at Mother Emanuel Church. We were so inspired as a community by the grace and compassion and love of those survivors and the victims’ families.”

“I think Charleston has been called to be an example for our country and for the world as to how a people can get along and live together and respect one another,” continued the Mayor. “It was so clear from the tragedy and the way we came together that we will not allow hate to thrive here, that love and compassion will be so much the defining elements of the people of this Holy City.”

Following Tecklenburg’s short, 15-minute address it was Slifer’s turn to man the microphone for an extended question and answer session with the Mayor. Slifer turned the group’s attention to a variety of topics, but began by asking Tecklenburg to talk about some of the peaks and valleys that defined his first year in office. Tecklenburg’s response was to remember Hurricane Matthew.

“It was like a ghost town there was nobody in the street, there were no cars parked in the street, it was just eerie,” began Tecklenburg. “But I had a sense of real gratification that we collectively had done our jobs and that the city was as ready as it could be and that everyone was either out of harms way or with the hatches battened down, so that was really gratifying.”

Slifer next shifted the topic to what challenge the City’s growth presented the Mayor in his first twelve months. “Growth for a city is generally a good thing but sometimes you can have a little bit too much,” began Slifer in his question to the Mayor. “Other than your trip up here this evening, when do you know the city has grown too much?”

“I’m going to use the hotel example,” responded Tecklenburg. “When you get to the point where the economics of the situation are such that if a property is entitled to become a hotel that eventually it will become a hotel, I believe that can be a problem in a vibrant city where you want to have a variety of uses.”

And in Tecklenburg’s eyes Charleston’s response to growth has been lacking not only in terms of creating residential infrastructure but the City’s transportation infrastructure too, most notably the municipality’s roads and bridges.

“The reality is that we didn’t either plan anticipate or keep up with the growth in terms of infrastructure for our roadways and bridges and it’s very expensive to do that when you’ve got all these rivers and beautiful creeks. All these factors have led us to a kind of balancing act right now where I feel we need to catch up a bit on infrastructure.”

“The pattern of development that has led to this traffic congestion that we see, if even with the increase in population that we’ve had if we’ve been developing and growing a little more smartly about where density and development should occur other than sprawling out like it did over the past 50 years we would have made a significant difference to the infrastructure costs and housing costs. Now what has happened is we are on the verge of an affordability crisis in this region,” continued Tecklenburg.

It was at that point that, recognizing no discussion with Mayor Tecklenburg on Daniel Island is complete without a discussion of the island itself, Slifer used the opportunity to segue from development to development on Daniel Island specifically. But first Slifer began by asking Tecklenburg about his motivation for originally coming to Daniel Island and opening the island’s first retail business back in 2000, the Tecklenburg’s Market & Café.

“The entrepreneurial bug bit me when I started seeing some of the original conceptual plans for Daniel Island,” began Tecklenburg, the twinkle of nostalgia glimmering in his eyes. “I saw the plans for Daniel Island and said to myself ‘what a great place for a corner store.’ We tried to do a little bit of everything it was more like a miniature grocery store then.”

“The development of Daniel Island is exactly what was anticipated 20 years ago. Some folks may argue from the growth point of view that it’s more than it seems like it could have or should have been but this is what was planned to happen,” he continued. “Finishing out the commercial part of it I feel is very important because you want to have a complete community to the best extent possible.”

Slifer closed the question and answer portion of the engagement with the theoretical question of what the Mayor would do for the City if he had a magic wand. Tecklenburg, in keeping with a message he unveiled in his campaign to become Mayor back in 2014 and 2015, kept his focus on the less fortunate among us.

“If I could, I’d wave a magic wand and make it so that every school in our County and region can give a decent, high-quality education to every kid,” Tecklenburg began “It’s a sad state that we have some schools that are mostly poor folks and African-Americans, where the school is lousy, not performing well and there are achievement gaps, and then we have other schools that are excellent, some of the best in the country. We should be doing that for every single school.”

The Daniel Island Speaker’s Series is sponsored jointly by the Rotary Club of Daniel Island, the Daniel Island Community Fund, the Daniel Island Business Association, and the Daniel Island Club. For information or questions contact Mary Wessner at dispeakerseries@hotmail.com.

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