|From left, John Tecklenburg, the city’s former director of economic development, founded Southern Oil Co. and sold it in 1995. He is a commercial broker for Clement, Crawford & Thornhill Inc. Leon Stavrinakis served on Charleston County Council from 1999 to 2006 and was chairman from 2005 to 2006. He has been a state representative since 2007. (Photos/Ashley Heffernan, Liz Segrist)|
None of the candidates for Charleston’s first new mayor in 40 years received a simple majority during the Nov. 3 general election. So frontrunners Leon Stavrinakis and John Tecklenburg will face off Tuesday in a runoff.
Here’s how the candidates answered questions posed by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce about running for mayor and business and development issues facing the Lowcountry.
Q: Why do you want to be mayor of Charleston?
Stavrinakis: I want to be mayor to keep our special city livable for all. For 40 years, we have benefited from Mayor (Joe) Riley’s wisdom and vision. As he leaves office next year, we must identify the steps needed to move our city forward in a positive direction. To me, the answer is clear: We need a hands-on mayor, focused on delivering the best city services and producing results that improve people’s lives through less traffic, safe streets and excellent neighborhoods. My plan is straightforward: fix our streets; tackle traffic and cut commute times; improve our schools; keep people safe; and demand excellence in everything we do. Because that’s what the people of Charleston expect, and that’s what they deserve.
Tecklenburg: Put simply, I believe that Charleston can and should be not just be the No. 1 tourist destination in America, but also the No. 1 city for livability and quality of life. That will be my goal as mayor. And I believe that I have the leadership skills and experience in both the private and public sectors to make that vision a reality for our citizens.
Q: The business community feels as though the approval process in the city of Charleston — specifically the approval process for real estate development — is quite cumbersome. What would you do to resolve this issue?
Stavrinakis: I agree with the Charleston business community. Those who seek to do business in the city of Charleston should not be subjected to the delays and lack of efficiency that is part of the current process. One of my priorities as mayor is to create an environment in Charleston that allows business to grow and prosper. As mayor, I will finish the task of bringing the city of Charleston’s government into the 21st century. I will utilize current technology and online capabilities to make Charleston’s government more effective and accessible for those seeking to do business here and for Charleston’s residents who need their city’s services. And I will remove the red tape that has plagued the permit and business license process and will work to streamline all city services to better accommodate Charleston’s citizens.
Tecklenburg: As I said repeatedly during the Sgt. Jasper debate, the development process in Charleston is broken and in need of significant reform. To remedy this situation, I’ve developed a specific plan for our city going forward. It will:
1. Bring zoning and height districts into conformance with the Century V Plan.
2. Reform the Board of Architectural Review to further protect the most historic areas.
3. Change height districts to floor limits to add architectural diversity.
4. Bring citizens outside the historic district directly into the development process by utilizing the existing Design Review Board.
5. Adopt a strategic development approach that focuses on a mix of housing, retail and commercial development that minimizes sprawl, as well as the traffic congestion that invariably accompanies it.
6. Offers a city-sponsored review through the Civic Design Center to get everyone around the table before major projects are submitted.
7. Create a paid-review option to improve turnaround times when city resources are stretched thin and wait times might otherwise be excessive.
Q: What is your vision for the city of Charleston over the next 10-20 years?
Stavrinakis: No. 1 in the nation. Top 10 in the world. What’s even more important than these honors and accolades is what the experience of living in our city is like for our residents. Over the next 10-20 years, I want Charleston to continue to set a world-class example of excellence, while paying more attention than ever before to what it will take to keep our city livable for all.
Tecklenburg: Given recent trends, we can reasonably expect Charleston to experience significant economic and population growth over the next 10-20 years. The question is whether we’ll also be able to protect and preserve the quality of life that is drawing businesses and individuals to our area in the first place. And I genuinely believe that with the right leadership — leadership that makes livability and citizen involvement a top priority — we can, and we will.
Q: Charleston’s cost of living and particularly its housing costs are high and often unaffordable for both young professionals and seniors. As mayor, how will you work to address this issue?
Stavrinakis: As a member of Charleston County Council, I worked to form, execute and fund a comprehensive growth management plan. So I know that cost of living and housing affordability are serious challenges our city faces. It is particularly troubling to me that fire fighters, police officers, teachers and other heroes who serve our city so well often find that they cannot afford to live here. My goal as mayor is to reexamine the growth management policies in place in Charleston. I will do so via a lens of providing affordable housing, ensuring adequate public facilities and preserving the character of our community. There are established incentive-based alternatives being used in other cities across the country that I will examine to encourage development of affordable housing.
Tecklenburg: In this area, the numbers tell the story: Here in Charleston, our median income is 80% of the national average, while our housing costs are 120% — and that represents a serious challenge for all of us going forward. As mayor, I’ll work to address this issue by, first, reexamining our existing city programs and services, such as our workforce housing program, as part of a larger performance audit that I will conduct during my first year in office. And, second, I will work directly with the private sector to incentivize and encourage a mix of housing that includes more affordable units.
Q: Describe your leadership style; how will you best use it when you are filling vacancies within your administration?
Stavrinakis: I am a collaborative and communicative leader. I believe there are many people from across the spectrum who would love the opportunity to serve the people of Charleston. When vacancies occur, I will look to the groups and citizens who work with that particular position for guidance and input. I look forward to having the chamber and others as a resource during the transition process.
Tecklenburg: My leadership style is based on “the three Ls” — listen, learn and lead, in that order. What that means, as a practical matter, is that first I reach out to gather the views of various stakeholders. Second, I learn as much as I can from subject area experts and through leaders. And then, with a solid foundation of both information and stakeholder collaboration, I lead with clear decisions, adequate empowerment of those tasked with carrying out those decisions and high expectations for performance and outcomes. In terms of filling vacancies, I would look for others who also have a record of successfully leading organizations in the private and public sectors, and who share my basic approach to leadership and collaborative problem solving.
Q: What is your position on the completion of Interstate 526?
Stavrinakis: It is no secret that I am — and have always been — one of the most vocal supporters of I-526. Completing 526 will be at the very top of my list of priorities as mayor. It is disappointing, to say the least, that we are still debating this project in 2015. I plan on doing everything in my power as mayor, including working with state, local and federal leaders, to complete 526. As chairman of county council, I pushed the council to pursue SIB (State Infrastructure Bank) funding and presented the application to the bank. I have continued to advocate and push the project regularly to the public. The completion of 526 is vital, and we must have a mayor who supports it with more than words during campaign season. We need someone we can trust to actually work for the project constantly to ward off the misinformation campaign against its completion and the efforts of an organized, vocal minority to see the funding withdrawn.
Tecklenburg: I’m in favor of it. The plain truth is that if we don’t complete I-526, it will have a devastating impact on our West Ashley residents’ livability and quality of life due to unnecessary traffic problems for a generation — and that’s simply unacceptable.
Q: Do you support the extension of Glenn McConnell Parkway?
Stavrinakis: Most of the residents I speak with list traffic congestion and commute times as their No. 1 concern. As mayor, it will be my top priority. I am supportive of the Glenn McConnell extension. Extension of the Glenn McConnell parkway is part of a comprehensive transportation plan that will help to alleviate traffic congestion on Highway 61, Bees Ferry Road and Highway 17, working in concert with completion of I-526. New road construction, along with reasonable growth management and offering alternatives to car use, are critical to providing meaningful solutions to Charleston’s traffic woes.
Tecklenburg: Yes. Again, reducing traffic and improving quality of life for our West Ashley residents has to be the priority here, and extending the Glenn McConnell Parkway will help us do that.
Q: Do you support the redevelopment of Union Pier and the construction of the cruise terminal?
Stavrinakis: Since its founding, the port has been one of Charleston’s most valued economic assets. During my tenure as a public servant, I have worked to ensure its success and future sustainability. I support the redevelopment of Union Pier and the construction of the new cruise terminal there. This issue has been thoroughly studied, vetted and approved by the Charleston City Council. It’s time this important project began. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with Mayor Riley in support of the cruise industry and the redevelopment of Union Pier. I believe that with effective tourism management and enforcement, we can preserve quality of life for residents while investing in our tourism and port economy.
Tecklenburg: Yes, I do support the redevelopment of Union Pier, returning as much of the land as possible to the fabric of our city, and am excited about the prospect of reopening Concord Street to reduce traffic congestion in the area. With regard to the cruise terminal, we’re still awaiting the findings of a court-ordered Army Corps of Engineers’ review of its potential impact on the city’s historic district — and until we get resolution in the courts, it will be difficult to make any final judgments about the proposed site. What we can say, though, is this: If a more collaborative approach of the kind I have advocated throughout this campaign had been employed from the beginning, we would not be in court today. We would have found a solution that everyone could live with — and we’d all be better off as a result.