Mayoral Candidates Answer Our Questions

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

We sent questionnaires to the candidates for mayor of Charleston and asked them to respond to each question in roughly a paragraph or so.

Each candidate received the same questions and submitted answers, which we have listed here in entirety and without edits. We are listing responses below in alphabetical order by candidate last name.

Candidates for Charleston Mayor:

Sheri Irwin

Michelle Renée Orth

Mike Seekings

John J. Tecklenburg

Maurice Washington

Francis Gary White, Jr.

Thank you to all of the candidates who took the time to respond! To find out more about the upcoming election, please check out our election write up.

1. What should be done to address infrastructure needs and development on Johns Island?


I believe the Pitchfork Plan needs to be done. The County funds this and we must work with them to come up with the money for funding. The city and county seem to be able to come up with funding for things we don’t need. It’s time to prioritize for things like the Pitchfork.  Need to make the lights at Maybank and River Road sync with traffic as well. Have the turn light last longer during rush hour. Until that is done, use a person to manually work the light during rush hour and keep the turn light longer during this time to clear people off the Stono River Bridge.


Suburban sprawl and single-family zoning are financially unviable. The costs of infrastructure to support this type of development cannot be supported by the tax base it creates. Mount Pleasant is dealing with this difficult truth now, where that the pace of development is a outstripping the resources necessary for upkeep – creating a potential timebomb. It is important to preserve Johns Island as a rural community that can provide food independence for the Lowcountry, while providing community, jobs, resilience and preserving its character. Depending on food coming from long distances is a recipe for disaster. In light of rising sea levels, and worsening and more frequent hurricanes creating a food-resilient community is absolutely essential and Johns Island can play a critical role in this. Paving over arable land to make way for low density housing is irresponsible, fiscally unsustainable and threatens to destroy the unique character of Johns Island.


When it comes to infrastructure on Johns Island, we need to tackle multiple projects in

the short-term, specifically the Southern Pitchfork and the flyover at Main Road and Hwy.

17. I have been a longtime advocate of the Southern Pitchfork and as mayor, it will be

one of my priorities to work with the county to get it done -- unlike the incumbent who

has all but given up on the idea. Another smaller fix is the installation of a smart light at

the corner of Maybank Highway and River Road, a chokepoint that robs Johns Islanders

of time every day. Finally, it’s important to note that, unlike the incumbent, I would not

recommend a bake sale as the funding source for any of these improvements.

In terms of development, it starts with ending fill-and-build and an overhaul of zoning

codes Johns Island. That process will begin on Day 1 in the Seekings administration.

Johns Island is the rural soul of Charleston and it needs to be respected and preserved

as such.

The current administration claims to have accomplished a lot when it comes to flooding,

traffic and overdevelopment. But just look around: they are all worse than ever on Johns

Island and that won’t change without a change in leadership.


From a development point of view, we must enact new stormwater rules which will put a damper on future development. We must also act upon the recommendations of the Dutch Dialogues that address drainage in low lying areas, and other stormwater requirements, including the use of fill. On the infrastructure side, I’ll be proposing a municipal improvement district that will have what’s similar to an impact fee on future development to help pay for needed infrastructure. Lastly, the City and I are close to reaching an agreement to provide a new police and fire facility on Johns Island to improve our public safety infrastructure.


We all know very well that nothing is more essential to a city than providing reliable infrastructure. Johns Island is the largest Sea Island and the second largest Island on the east coast. 7% or 10,780 of Charleston's population reside in Johns Island, and because of rapid development that is threatening its rural character, infrastructure needs must be thoughtful and well planned. What does that mean?

  • Reliable roads and transit systems that allow residents to safely get to work and school.

  • Reliable water and sewer systems so that residents don't have to wonder if it's safe to drink water from the tap.

  • Reliable, fast broadband that connects ALL neighborhoods so that students young, and those not so young, can learn new skills, and entrepreneurs can grow their businesses in a changing economy.

  • And most importantly, infrastructure that does not threaten the historic treasures (Angel Oak, wetlands, scenic roads and moss-draped oaks) of the Island.

The challenge is to grow smart. We cannot, and ought not, stand by watching and just let things happen. Because business as usual cannot be allowed to push Johns Island unwittingly into an unsustainable Future.


We need to have infrastructure before development. I voted against a recent Planned Unit Development at the corner of Maybank and River Road.  Although the developer was going to donate land to the City for road improvements, there was no funding to pay for the road itself. I did not believe it was a good idea to approve a Planned Unit Development at an already very congested intersection before we had the infrastructure to support it. Moving forward we must take a much more thoughtful approach to planning to ensure that our infrastructure is not overwhelmed by development.

2. Please describe the role you believe the Urban Growth Boundary plays in development on Johns Island and what, if anything, should be done to preserve/enforce it.


I actually believe the boundary is making density worse and here is why:

In the Charleston County’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan Update it states the “Urban Growth Boundary needs to be institutionalized through intergovernmental agreements and/or working relationships in order to DIRECT HIGHER DENSITY GROWTH to the urban/suburban area!

I suspect that is why they want to build on the delta that the Dutch Dialogues said you cannot build on. This density growth is on purpose. Don’t misunderstand me, if you do away with the growth boundary, that does NOT mean it would be ok to build all over Johns Island. I believe much of Johns Island is too close to sea level to build on.


The Urban Growth Boundary must be enforced to preserve the rural agricultural character of Johns Island. Moreover, as the Dutch Dialogues informed us, we absolutely must stop developing in low lying areas immediately. The complicity of our local leaders in allowing the shortsighted fill and build developments in flood plains is irresponsible. Extending the 526 will create demand that will ultimately destroy Johns Island’s unique character, which is one of the many reasons I oppose it.


We need to rethink what zoning and growth look like on the whole on Johns Island,

where it’s clear that residents prefer things to be less dense and more green. While

well-intended, the UGB has not been fail-proof. Development affects all Johns Islanders,

whether they live in the city or county, inside the UGB or outside of it. And the density of

growth inside the UGB has been too great. The city needs to rezone to reduce density

and eliminate fill-and-build, and also work with the county to ensure consistency across

the island.


The Urban Growth Boundary plays a vital role to contain development to higher ground areas and the area near Maybank Highway, and to limit development and preserve the rural characteristic of Johns Island. Just like four years ago, I believe the Urban Growth Boundary should be upheld and preserved. If given the chance to be your Mayor for another four years, we will strengthen the UGB with stormwater requirements that dampen development and I will continue to resist future, unnecessary development.


Given that the plan is an expression of the County's intent for where and how future growth and development should occur. The Urban Growth Boundary Plan plays an important role in the current and future development of Johns Island. Growth is inevitable, the challenge is to grow smart, nothing should be taken for granted. It is important that we get the growth pattern of Johns Island right today, and for the future. I will bring the key partners - landscape architects, urban/rural designers, traffic engineers, environmental experts, real estate people, and most importantly, citizen stakeholders to the table to take a fresh look at the current urban growth boundary plan to help me determine what, if anything, should be done to preserve/enforce it.


The role of the Urban Growth Boundary is to control urban sprawl. Higher density development should be focused in our Urban/Suburban areas where infrastructure and services exist and can support it. Moving forward, the City and Charleston County need to work together to further strengthen our regional support and enforcement of the Urban Growth Boundary.

3. Even though District 9 schools fall under the Charleston County School Board's purview, what can the City do to support equitable resources for children on Johns Island?


I would want to meet with the Charleston County School Board to make sure Johns Island is receiving equitable resources and also meet with the Johns Island Schools to make sure they are getting what they need.


Solving the problem of underperforming schools requires us to address the underlying inequity built into our current winner-takes-all economy that has put a stranglehold on our government (one reason development has been allowed to proceed in patently unsuitable locations). The means of addressing the deep systemic roots of inequality are beyond what can be covered in this response and are the subject of my book, Conspiracy of Dreamers: Capitalism at the Service of Humanity. In addition, prioritizing the pay of teachers (though not within the direct jurisdiction of the City) over wasting $750 million on the 526 extension is top on my list.


This comes back to leadership, like many of the issues in this race. Who can work

with with other agencies and jurisdictions to get things done? I led the regional

transportation agency -- with a board made up of elected leaders from throughout the

region -- out of a $6 million in debt. The incumbent has failed to produce significant

stormwater and transportation infrastructure funding on the regional, state and federal

levels. It’s the sort of ineffective leadership that undoubtedly carries over into other areas

such as education.

Students on Johns Island deserve as much support as others anywhere else in the

district. I see what the kids mean to the community: the St. Johns High School

Scholarship Fund is an incredible example of that. Johns Islanders care about their

students and part of my job as mayor will be to effectively advocate for equity in



Given the limited ability for the City to directly impact our schools, we can still aid and support our children by other means. For example, just as I did with the new Stono Park Elementary School, if the School District is considering renovations to a facility or building a new facility on Johns Island, I will strongly advocate for a new facility. I will continue the City’s efforts to expand workforce development programs for students, City support for after-school art programs, and partnerships to expand access to recreational programs for our children.


I have always believed that education is everybody's business. When I served on the Charleston City Council, I secured federal block grant funds to renovate and expand community centers to host after school tutorial and computer lab programs for local students. I understood then as I do now, what kids do after school has a strong influence on how they perform in schools. Even though city officials do not play a direct role in governing our school systems, there are numerous ways in which we can exercise leadership to support public schools and assure resource equity, to ensure that all youth, especially low income or disadvantaged youth, have access to quality after school and summer learning programs as a key strategy to promote their success.


The City of Charleston can and must play a leadership role with education. By ensuring we have fluid lines of communication and a strong working relationship with the Charleston County School Board, the City can play an important role in supporting education for children on Johns Island. Through proactive outreach programs, the City can help ensure that the needed resources for Johns Island students are obtained. Additionally, the City can provide resources for the children on Johns Island through after school programming via our Recreation Department.

4. How do you propose to work with the Charleston County government to address challenges specific to Johns Island?


I would want to meet with them regarding getting the money that is needed to build the Pitchfork and discuss some of the bad things in the Charleston County’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan Update.

I would want to go to their meetings on a regular basis and meet each county council member one on one as well.


Intergovernmental cooperation is essential if we are to deal effectively with flooding, development, transportation, and water pollution. These challenges know no boundaries, thus meeting them wisely and with a view to long-term community prosperity and wellbeing demands that leaders put the interests of the people above the interests of developers. As a community organizer I appreciate the importance of collaboration. As a lawyer I appreciate the corrosive effect of entrenched, narrowly-defined interests. I will bring these diverse experiences to the task of building bridges and finding common ground for the greatest good.


I hold several positions related to regional efforts, including serving as chairman of

CARTA (which is now debt-free) and chairman of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester

Council of Governments Safety Committee, which is working to prioritize bike/ped safety

projects throughout the region. In these roles, I work closely and amicably with county

leaders to produce results, such as the HOP park-and-ride shuttle on the peninsula.

(That type of service may very well be duplicated on Johns Island in the future.) Our

combined efforts also led to the recent opening of a $15 million transit center in North

Charleston that serves as a new Amtrak station and bus hub, and we are working

hand-in-hand on Lowcountry Rapid Transit, the state’s first large-scale public transit

project. Using these relationships and managing them with great communication --

something that is not happening with the current administration -- will translate into

progress for Johns Island when I’m mayor.


A strong City-County government partnership is crucial on Johns Island. I will continue to work with the County, with the help of the fine folks at Johns Island Community Association, to fund the Southern Pitchfork, other infrastructure improvements, and for enforcement of the County’s Urban Growth Boundary on Johns Island. Moreover, it’s imperative that we work with the County to update their building requirements to include similar improvements that we make to our stormwater rules because water doesn’t adhere to boundaries.


To think intelligently of the future of Johns Island is to think regionally. Today, many of the challenges facing Johns Island to not stop at city limits, therefore, my administration will work closely with county officials to address challenges specific to Johns Island.


Over the years I have built very strong working relationships with many of my peers on Charleston County Council. I understand the need to work with all the municipalities across our region to ensure that we are all working towards a common goal. As Mayor, I will continue to work with my colleagues on Charleston County Council to ensure that we are able to efficiently and effectively address the needs and challenges of Johns Island.

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