Breakin’ Up the Boys’ Club

Deerin rides ramped up campaign to strong pre-race polling position

The candidate for Charleston Mayor kicked off her WINGS for Kids, Charleston’s social learning-focused, after-school program at James Island County Park in 1996. “One of the important skills in social and emotional learning is perseverance, and a really good way to teach and test perseverance is juggling.”

 “When we look at making the City better or dealing with challenges and opportunities, we’ve got to think big,” says candidate for Charleston Mayor Virginia “Ginny” Deerin. Hearing Deerin talk about all things big is a bit surprising, as the only woman in the 2015 City of Charleston Mayor’s race is also by far race’s most petite contender. Seeing is believing when it comes to Deerin however, doubters be damned.

Riding a near perfect quarter of fundraising that saw Deerin leap into second place in campaign dollars, the longtime nonprofit coordinator and former campaign manager for Mayor Riley has pulled her campaign up by its metaphorical bootstraps. Now, with only three months to go and over 1,300 campaign donors and climbing, one thing has become evident: Deerin looks to have the means, the motivation and the message to make more than a few waves for the 5-man boys’ club she’s up against in November.

“Usually to think big, it takes funding and investment, at which point the question becomes ‘how does and how should the City go about attracting available funds?’

“One of the things that I’ve become good at over the years is identifying sources of state and federal monies and going after them. It’s a learned skill, a lot of it is perseverance, and a lot of it has to do with relationships. I have a long list of people whom I’ve worked with in my time in Charleston; I’ve built a long list of relationships, and also I think when you have someone that’s not coming from a political background they are not stuck in the view that it’s state or federal funding, or ‘sorry, you’re out of luck,’” she continues, her energy seemingly boundless.

It will take continued, focused energy to bring about the kind of change Deerin believes the Holy City to be due for. And while the task of beating the bushes and getting creative in solving Charleston’s current issues will require energy and dedication, the solutions are many.

“We need to add to the number of ways we get resources for things like infrastructure projects, but we need to make sure we still get our fair share of state money that is so important in filling our coffers,” she continues, staying on message. “There are many cities where you’ve got private equity that’s leveraged against public funds, you’ve nonprofits forming to play a role in it. It’s a very creative process to come up with the funds you need to make things happen.”

Deerin’s campaign has risen from humble beginnings. The founder of WINGS for Kids, a wildly successful after-school education program that focuses on children’s social and emotional learning needs, built momentum gradually and only in the last couple of months allowed the substance behind her run to emerge. It did, and with the loud bang of a transportation and mobility plan she calls “Accelerate Charleston, for short.”

“Accelerate Charleston: A Bold Plan to Relieve Congestion and Keep Charleston Moving,” is anything if not thorough. “When I think about the challenge of transportation, I look at how we’ve addressed it historically. In the case of transportation all we’ve done is go by one playbook, to try and go to Columbia to get funds from the South Carolina Department of Transportation,” she says. “How’s that working for us? Not very well.

“Some solutions though are right in front of us when it comes to transportation. The funds to do the pitchfork road plan designed to alleviate traffic on the Johns Island stretch of Maybank Highway, for instance, are in place. There are some neighborhoods on James Island where there is a quarter of a mile of sidewalk that needs to be completed to connect neighborhoods with their schools, too, all those items need to be resolved,” she continued on the topic of her solutions to Charleston’s traffic problems.

Regarding development, particularly residential growth on the outlying barrier islands, Deerin’s take shows nuance. “I do think that density and gathering places are part of the solution in making all of Charleston interesting,” states Deerin. “I think if we don’t have these we won’t have diversity. I think we should have nice suburban areas for people who want to live in nice, suburban areas,” she states, before turning her attention to the mechanics of how the City processes requests from developers.

“We need to step back and let people know what we’re doing. I think is so important that we put the density where we want it to go, but it also important to put the infrastructure in place before the development comes,” she begins, “To me, the emphasis needs to be on making sure the residents, the current residents of the community are always first taken into consideration.

“If the public transit’s not there, if the extra lanes aren’t there, if all of that isn’t there to start working on day one when the 300 or something residents move in, then the residents of James Island end up saying ‘we don’t want this,’” continues the candidate seamlessly, before taking on the topic of tech.

“I think there is a real opportunity with the City to better use technology, especially when it comes to development projects. There are tons of ways technology could be used to get early understanding of the plans, and add comments so everyone can think big together.”

© 2015 the J.I. Messenger

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