Bohicket Marina barman makes bid for City Hall
By Charlie Morrison
City of Charleston mayoral candidate Joshua Kennedy is a believer in the democratic process. After all, when it comes to this November’s race to City Hall, he represents the ultra-American idea of the dark horse, long-shot candidate. The 36-year-old father of two only recently entered the race, and since then Kennedy has announced he is running his campaign without the use of a campaign manager, donations, or political advertisements. He’s going bare-bones, armed with his message and his bumper sticker.
But Kennedy wouldn’t have it any other way. Though he is challenging a mayor who began mastering the art of Broad Street policymaking since the year of his Kennedy’s birth, the young candidate is undeterred, and determined to give the Holy City an alternative in Charleston’s Mayoral elections.
“I think I’m doing it for the right reasons. I never had any political aspirations and I never wanted to be Mayor,” says Kennedy. “It came down to me looking at the field in August and not seeing anyone I would want to vote for. It’s a shame that I have to run. My entire political education has been in the past four years. As far as local government, I’ve had enough of people who don’t represent anyone but themselves running for office. I think if we can get more regular people out there, we’ll be in better shape.”
Kennedy, who resides on Johns Island, aptly represents the everyman he hopes to represent. Kennedy manages Fischer’s Sports Pub at the Bohicket Marina, a vocation that puts him in touch with all kinds of potential voters.
“I have customers with black American Express cards and I have customers working for minimum wage. But when they’re in here they talk about the same things,” says Kennedy. “When I see people in here talking like that, I say to myself ‘this is the way it should be. We’re all people.’ And when you put something common in front of them like a beer, it levels the playing field. I’ll be that beer.”
Barman as politician has worked elsewhere in American politics, as has the “everyman” candidate. In the case of Kennedy, his political philosophy begins where the bar ends. Naturally a strong proponent of small business, Kennedy’s platform in centered upon the role of the Mayor as driver of industry, something he would see changed if elected Mayor.
“There are only a few things I fault Joe Riley for, and bringing in business is not one of them. But I don’t think he’s bringing in the right kind of business, right now,” says Kennedy. “I think we need some small businesses, some start-up businesses…. we need to get creative. If and when a bad economy hits again, airplanes aren’t going to be made. We need small, everyday products that everyone buys.”
Kennedy makes a case for drawing a wide variety of these small businesses to the area, which has the siren song of the beauty and culture of the Lowcountry as the biggest draw. “Do you want to run a small business in Canton, Ohio or do you want to run one in Charleston? I have 14 employees, it doesn’t seem like a lot but 14 people with jobs is a good thing. If I get elected Mayor that will be one more opening here,” Kennedy says, with a chuckle.
Like the three other challengers to Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Kennedy takes issues with City Hall prioritizing, especially of late. At the top of the list is the City’s plan to spend more than $140 million on refurbishing the Gaillard Auditorium.
“I don’t see that as a revenue producer. I don’t see it a draw for tourism. We could tear it down and rebuild it for $140 million,” says Kennedy.In regards to the Mayor’s recently announced $154 million plan to address drainage downtown, specifically on the Crosstown, Kennedy is direct. “In 36 years I could have dug a ditch. He (Riley) ran on fixing the Crosstown the year that I was born, and he’s still running on it,” he says.
Kennedy does support City Hall’s recent ordinance capping cruise ship traffic to 104 calls per year. “The cruise deal is good for Charleston. It brings more people, brings jobs, brings money. It’s a historic city, people are going to want to visit,” says Kennedy.
Kennedy also says more can be done from City Hall to influence the Charleston County School Board’s handling of area schools.
“Despite not having anything to do with the school board, there has to be an olive branch City Hall can extend,” he says. “We’ve got to get parents involved with schools, the PTA is not doing it. Our taxes… where’s the money going? The School Board building, that’s a gorgeous building, isn’t it? I wonder how many kids we could have gone to college with that money?”
Kennedy’s platform is still evolving, but what he represents is clear: the idea of taking action to fill what one sees as a political vacuum is, at its core, a very American idea, and stamping one’s name on your dissent, brings to mind John Hancock’s extra-large signature on the Declaration of Independence. For Kennedy, however, his decision to run against Riley was egalitarian.
“I’m trying to make a difference. I’m trying to show people that’s it possible for us normal people who don’t normally stand up and say ‘hey, what about us?,’ that they can do something about it,” says Kennedy. “If I can show one person out there that it is possible to speak your voice and be heard, maybe they will run someday and they will win. Then it’s working. Politics doesn’t have to be the school president campaigning with buttons, it should be regular people.”
For more information on Josh Kennedy, go to www.kennedy4mayor.net.
This is the third of a series of articles on City of Charleston’s challengers for Mayor. Look for articles on Riley challenger Craig Jelks next week.