Rumors swirl as a growing crowd awaits Joe Riley’s departure
by Paul Bowers
Two weeks ago, an anonymous phone poll asked Charleston voters who they would choose for their next mayor ... in November 2015.
If a two-year politicking window sounds a bit extreme for a local election, consider that the incumbent, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., will have held the office for a solid four decades by the time he leaves office in 2016. Consider also that Riley has vowed that this term will be his last and it starts to become obvious why the race for Holy City head honcho is already heating up.
For local politicians, Riley's departure opens the field for serious competition for the first time in years. In Riley's last election in 2011, four contenders were gunning for the mayor, but they couldn't even muster a runoff. Riley walked away with 67.5 percent of the votes in the general election after out-fundraising his closest opponent, City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, by a ratio of 8 to 1.
State political analyst and former City Council candidate Andy Brack — one of the few people we asked who said he wasn't considering a run — says he sees City Councilman Mike Seekings and state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis as frontrunners in the race. Still, he says, when you have a nonpartisan election with upwards of 10 candidates, it only takes a small percentage of the vote to make it to a runoff. Brack has been keeping track of the rumor mill surrounding the 2015 election at least since October 2012, when he published his own list of potential candidates on his blog, and the list just keeps getting longer.
"To come in first on the ballot, you may only have to get 20 percent, so that could go to somebody who spends a lot of money who's not on our list, or that could go to somebody who may not be the inside frontrunner today, but maybe somebody who goes and connects with voters in a big way," Brack says.
Here's a look at how the far-away election is shaping up. Eight people have already said they're contemplating a run in '15: