CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Incumbent John Tecklenburg and challenger William Cogswell met face-to-face Thursday night on the News 2 debate stage as Charlestonians weigh who they want to lead the city.
The race advanced to a runoff after none of the six candidates earned at least 50% of the vote during the Nov. 7 municipal election to win outright. According to results from the South Carolina Election Commission, Cogswell earned 36% support, finishing about four points ahead of Tecklenburg.
Moderators Carolyn Murray and Riley Benson presented a series of questions on topics that matter most to voters in Charleston including stalled development projects, traffic, and the threat of climate change and rising sea levels. News 2 anchor Brendan Clark hosted the debate and asked the candidates questions submitted by viewers.
The candidates were given one minute to respond to each question and were often asked follow-up questions.
The race for Charleston mayor, which was relatively quiet leading up to Election Day, has heated up over the past several weeks.
The controversy sparked after several third-party ads trying to paint Cogswell as a far-right candidate supported by Moms For Liberty, a controversial, self-described “parental rights” group, began airing on local television.
Cogswell accused Tecklenburg of hiding his involvement with the groups that paid for the ads, noting that each was tied to a South Carolina-based lawyer, Butch Bowers, who served on former President Donald Trump’s legal team.
“Now I know, without a doubt, that he [Tecklenburg] lacks character, is willing to openly break federal campaign laws and will lie to his own constituents for political gain” Cogswell said during a Nov. 1 news conference outside City Hall.
Meanwhile, Tecklenburg’s campaign has criticized Cogswell for not clarifying his position on the group, which has come under fire in light of recent chaos in the Charleston County School District. The campaign also pointed to a $1,000 donation from CCSD Board Chair Pam McKinney reported on Cogswell’s most recent campaign finance disclosure.
“To date, Mr. Cogswell has not said publicly whether he’s returned the $1000 donation and has refused to join bipartisan area leaders in denouncing the chaos Moms for Liberty is causing on our school board,” a Nov. 15 campaign news release stated.
The pair also sparred publicly during the previous News 2 debate when Tecklenburg suggested Cogswell “hasn’t been doing his homework” on the issue of affordable housing and took aim at the former state representatives’s time in Columbia.
“The new ideas that Mr. Cogswell has about dealing with the tax credits and property taxes are all state issues,” he said during the Oct. 26 debate, “Why didn’t he do that in the state legislature?”
“We tried to do that, but we never heard anything from the mayor coming to solicit for it and to advocate for it,” Cogswell, who represented SC House District 110 from 2017 to 2022, countered.
It remains to be seen whether this heated rhetoric from the campaign trail will emerge on stage Thursday, but the debate is a chance for the candidates to make their eleventh-hour pitch to voters and rally new supporters.
The last two weeks have seen a wave of endorsements from community leaders and elected officials, and mayoral hopefuls who did not make the runoff.
Cogswell announced a handful of endorsements Thursday including Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis, State Sen. Larry Grooms (R-Berkeley), State Rep. Mark Smith (R-Berkeley), and Berkeley County Councilman Josh Whitley. He has previously been endorsed by City Councilman Peter Shahid, activist Mika Gadsden, State Rep. Wendell Gilliard (D-Charleston), local restauranteur Steve Palmer, and Clay Middleton’s campaign manager Angela Kouters, among others.
Tecklenburg also unveiled a slate of endorsements Thursday including former Charleston County Republican Party Chair Maurice Washington, Hollywood Mayor Chardale Murray, and Charleston County Register of Deeds Karen Hollings. He has also gained the support of Clay Middleton, City Councilmen Ross Appel and Stephen Bowden, former Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynold’s wife Caroline, and Former CCSD Superintendent Dr. Eric Gallien, among others.
The run-off election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 21.