CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- With just weeks to go until Charleston city residents head to the polls, six candidates are trying to prove they are the right person to lead the Holy City.
Incumbent Mayor John Tecklenburg is fighting to keep his seat, while five challengers – William Cogswell, Mika Gadsden, Debra Gammons, Clay Middleton, and Peter Shahid – are looking to take it.
William Cogswell, a real estate developer, represented House District 110 in the Statehouse from 2017 to 2022. During that time, he served as Chairman of the Business and Commerce subcommittee. His projects include the redevelopment of the old Cigar Factory on East Bay Street and Garco Mill in Park Circle, as well as ongoing efforts to revitalize the Navy Yard in North Charleston.
Since launching his bid, Cogswell has centered his campaign around three themes: “safe communities, smart growth, and sound governance.” He advocates for what he calls a “strategic approach to growth,” which would include enacting new zoning ordinances. He also supports increased funding for city recreation leagues and community centers, as well as taking a regional approach to address both flooding and affordable housing.
Cogswell grew up on Gibbs Street and attended both the University of the South and Columbia University.
Mika Gadsden is a community activist and organizer. She is a leader of Friends of Gadsden Creek, a nonprofit working to protect the historic tidal creek and marshland from development. The group sued the WestEdge Foundation in 2021 over plans to fill in the creek and build a mixed-use development on the west side of the Charleston peninsula.
Gadsden says one of her top priorities is addressing the climate crisis, including managing tidal flooding, which she says has been “exacerbated by inadequate water management practices and outdated infrastructure combined with dubious development schemes.” She is running on a “people-first” platform that advocates for community-based approaches to some of the city’s most pressing problems.
A descendant of the Gullah people, she graduated from the former St. Andrews Parish High School and now lives in West Ashley.
Attorney Debra Gammons has been a professor at Charleston School of Law since 2009 and served as the first Black president of the Charleston County Bar Association from 2020 to 2021.
Her campaign platform centers around three key themes: preservation, protection, and pride. Gammons says she wants to alleviate traffic congestion by making the city more pedestrian and biker-friendly and improve accessibility for those with physical disabilities or mobility issues. She also hopes to tackle overdevelopment on the peninsula and supports a temporary moratorium on further development.
Gammons is a Lowcountry resident and currently serves as the Trinity Montessori School Board of Director’s Chair. She’s also on the College of Charleston African American Studies Advisory Board.
Clay Middleton, a decorated combat veteran and community leader, served as director of Business Services for the City of Charleston. He was also an Obama appointee and longtime aide to Congressman Jim Clyburn.
Middleton launched his campaign in May, promising servant leadership and a commitment to improving Charleston’s livability. Among his top priorities are climate change, gentrification, and public safety. Middleton said he hopes to create a city that “works for everyone” by ensuring infrastructure keeps up with rapid growth, while also preserving the city’s history.
Middleton grew up in Bayside Manor and attended both the Charleston Catholic School and Burke High School. He later graduated from The Citadel in 2003 and served 22 years in the SC Army National Guard.
Peter Shahid was elected to Charleston City Council representing District 9 in West Ashley in Nov. 2015. He instituted the West Ashley Revitalization Commission, which has overseen several projects including redevelopment plans for the former Piggly Wiggly site on Summar Street.
Shahid announced his bid for mayor with a goal to “rethink Charleston,” saying the city was in need of strong leadership and improved livability for its residents. He said he wants to take the successes that he has demonstrated on council to the next level. He plans to address the severe flooding problems, crime, workforce housing, traffic, and controlling the city’s “uncontrolled growth and overdevelopment.”
Shahid is a long-time attorney in the Lowcountry. He was appointed an Associate Municipal Judge for the Town of Mt. Pleasant from 1997 until 2006 and later served as Assistant United States Attorney for the District of South Carolina from 1988 to 1997.
Mayor John Tecklenburg was first elected to the mayor’s office in 2016, replacing longtime mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. He won reelection against councilman Mike Seekings in 2019.
During his tenure, Tecklenburg has helped the city find new ways to fight flooding with more than 30 drainage projects currently underway and the creation of the city’s Office of Resilience led by Dale Morris. He has led the city through snowstorms, hurricanes, a global pandemic, riots and protests, and found new ways to establish affordable housing.
Tecklenburg spent much of his career as a businessman and entrepreneur before taking office. He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Georgetown University and attended the Berklee College of Music. He and his wife Sandy live in the Old Windermere neighborhood of West Ashley.
The Charleston mayoral election will take place on Tuesday, November 7. Registered voters can cast an early ballot beginning Oct. 23.