Holy City native and first-term City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie had arrived at the crossroads of his life when, in 2007, he retired from the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an organization he had worked for in various capacities for the better part 32 years, eight of those in Columbia. When the day arrived, however, and it was time to act, the man was decisive. He left Capital City and made a beeline to Charleston, settling into the very neighborhood where a half-century earlier he had played in the streets as a child.
However, the Charleston of Gregorie’s youth is a far cry from what it is today. “I really think we have a beautiful city and we need to protect it,” he says. “My 97-year-old grandmother was born on Calhoun Street. When I drive her around she’ll say to me, ‘you know, it sure is pretty, but I don’t know where I am anymore.’ I think that when natives of the City can’t relate to anything that’s familiar to them, we’re slowly eroding the flavor of the City, and we need to protect the flavor of the City.”
This is Gregorie’s second attempt at the mayor’s office. In 2007, his political savvy garnered him more than 29 percent of the vote, good for a second-place finish behind Mayor Joseph Riley. And though he had expended much in the way of energy and money on what ultimately proved to be a failed bid for the job, Gregorie didn’t leave empty-handed. Suddenly flush with political capital, he parlayed that into a victory in a February 2009 special election for the Charleston City Council District 6 seat, which Wendell Gaillard had vacated when he won a seat in the S.C. General Assembly.
A fiscal conservative, Gregorie is also a champion of transparency. He spearheaded the move to televise City Council meetings. “A lot has happened since the 2007 race. It’s a little different this time, in that now I have Council experience, I’m on the inside and I now have responsibility for what’s going on in the City,” says Gregorie. “As for the current race, I have to let people know that out of all the candidates running, I have brought over $500 million to this City. I’ve created jobs. Those jobs are permanent jobs, and those jobs are throughout the City.”
The question of whether or not Gregorie’s growing political largess will translate to votes in November remains to be seen. But what is not in doubt is 2011 has already gone down as one hell of a year for Gregorie. He has made a lot of noise on a host of issues, including the ongoing downtown drainage problem, the poster-child of which being the Septima Clark Parkway, also known as the Crosstown Expressway. Earlier this year, Mayor Riley announced a multi-million dollar upgrade to the streetscaping along the road, but the project does not include any major drainage improvements.
“I don’t know why it would take 36 years to get to it,” Gregorie says. “It’s going to be pretty, but without the plumbing it’s not going to work very well. Why couldn’t we have done this five years ago, 10 years ago, 15 or 20 years ago? I pledge right here, right now, that if the voters in Charleston do choose to elect me as their next mayor, I will secure the funding for the completion of the Septima Clark Parkway, including the drainage aspect of the project.”
Gregorie puts forth several ideas for revenue generation to pay for such projects. One is to formalize an agreement with the cruise ship industry to generated a per passenger fee. The other, more easily obtainable way to find money, he says, is to look within.
“The initial thing I’d do is to conduct a forensic audit to determine whether or not there’s waste, fraud, mismanagement, or duplication of services in the City government,” Gregorie says. “When government is run by career politicians, often times the people suffer, and often times things get so old and stagnant until people don’t realize that they are (old and stagnant).”
Gregorie says the structure of City government is outdated, which negatively affects economic development. This is another area where Gregorie feels he could have an immediate impact. “Economic development in the city government is fragmented around many different departments and I’d like to bring all those functions under the umbrella of one department, of the Department of Economic Development,” he says. “What’s happened is economic development is in the head of the Mayor. While I think it’s important that a Mayor has ideas on how to foster economic development, I think that has to be formalized within a department with a department head that would bring all the fragmentation together in the name of efficiency.”
Finally, Gregorie says his mayorship will based above all on Respect. “I will not turn deaf ears to the needs and wants of the citizens of this City. I will respect the citizens of this City,” he says. “I don’t think we respect the citizens when we’re yelling and screaming at each other during Council meetings. I don’t think we’re respecting the citizens when we allow the flooding of the Septima Clark and of certain other areas in this City to continue. What people get in William Dudley Gregorie is a modern Mayoral candidate for modern times that will respect the citizens of this City and the needs they have going forward.”