2020 Mayoral Inaugural Address

Inaugural Remarks of Mayor John J. Tecklenburg

The following Inaugural Address was prepared for delivery by Mayor John J. Tecklenburg on January 13, 2020 at 12 p.m.

Judge Gergel, Judge Rico Flores, members of City Council, invited guests and fellow Charlestonians:

It is an honor to be with you here today, and to take this oath of service to our citizens once again. I am deeply grateful for the trust you’ve placed in me, and will continue to work every day over the next four years to be deserving of it.

But before we turn to these next four years, I’d like to begin by acknowledging the three hundred and fifty years just passed. For this is the year of our city’s semiseptcentennial -- our three hundred and fiftieth birthday. And thanks to the hard work of the Charleston 350 Commission and a small army of private citizens, over the next twelve months we will see an unprecedented flowering of history and ideas and arts and culture throughout the city of Charleston. 

Through festivals and seminars and reenactments and more, we will tell the story of our people -- the whole story of all our people -- from the early promise of liberty and opportunity, to the moral abomination of slavery and Jim Crow, to the hopeful yet still imperfect moment we now inhabit.

But even as we prepare to begin this extraordinary commemoration of our city’s first 350 years, we know that history has not come to a stop here in Charleston. In fact, if anything, it seems to be moving faster than ever before. Which is why I plan to further expand and accelerate our progress on the items I’ve identified as the city of Charleston’s top four priorities: flooding and drainage, traffic and transportation, affordable housing and public safety.

First, flooding and drainage, where the challenge we face is nothing less than existential. 

Over the last four years, we Charlestonians have seen the stark reality of climate change with our own eyes. The water in Charleston Harbor is rising. King tides are higher and more frequent. Rain bombs bring traffic to a standstill almost without warning. And hurricanes have seemingly become an annual occurrence, bringing evacuations, creating major flooding, and causing real and measurable harm to our economy, even when the storm passes us by.

That is why we have made fighting flooding job one here in Charleston. 

We’ve created our city’s first Stormwater Department, it’s first comprehensive flooding plan, and invested more than $100 million in critical infrastructure. We’ve installed check valves and accelerated maintenance schedules. We’ve passed tough new rules to stop irresponsible development in Church Creek, and will soon implement similar controls throughout the city. And we’ve brought in the Dutch and the Army Corps of Engineers to help deliver long-term solutions.

But even with all this and more, we are still just at the starting gate of this race. To truly begin solving this problem, we simply must ask our city’s eight-plus million annual visitors, including cruise ship passengers, to help save the city they love. And to do that, we must respectfully ask the state of South Carolina to expand Home Rule by granting us the legal authority to collect additional fees from our visitors, and to use those dollars for flooding and drainage. 

Next, traffic and transportation, which is critical to the quality of life of our citizens and the long-term economic viability of our entire region.

Let’s begin by stating plainly what we all know: For too long development has been allowed to outpace tangible transportation improvements, and the predictable result has been twice-a-day traffic jams for far too many of our citizens.

To tackle this problem, the city has worked closely with our state and regional partners to create specific, funded plans to improve mobility throughout the area.

We began this effort by helping to lead the regional push to secure more than two billion dollars for major road improvements and Lowcountry Rapid Transit. We worked with the County, the State Infrastructure Bank and Gov. McMaster to resurrect I-526. We retimed lights, partnered with CARTA on park and ride, passed Charleston’s first citywide transportation plan, and secured the land needed for both the Southern and Northern Pitchforks. And we brought together federal, state and regional leaders to secure funding for the Ashley River Bike Pedestrian Bridge. 

Now, over the next four years, our job is clear: we must push hard to ensure that all these projects and more come out of the ground on time and on budget, and begin providing real traffic relief for our residents.

Next, affordable housing, which is both a practical need in our community and a moral imperative for city residents and leaders alike. 

Like successful cities all across America, Charleston is facing a housing crisis, as the price of the average home or apartment continues to rise faster than the size of the average paycheck. 

To combat this problem, the city has expanded affordable housing requirements for major residential and hotel developments in the city, and created a $40 million dollar affordable housing construction fund to increase supply. We’ve built affordable homes in West Ashley, partnered with the Charleston Housing Authority to build homes and apartments on the peninsula, and worked with the Historic Charleston Foundation and others to create a new affordable housing land trust. 

Taken together, these initiatives are expected to create more than a thousand units of attractive, attainable housing in the city of Charleston over the next four years.

And, finally, public safety, which is the first job of city government, and the most solemn duty of any public official.

Few cities in all of America are blessed with uniformed public servants like those of the Charleston Police and Fire Departments. Under the very fine leadership of Police Chief Luther Reynolds and Fire Chief Daniel Curia, these remarkable men and women do their utmost every day to keep our city and its citizens safe, and they represent the very best our city has to offer.

Most impressive over the last four years has been the work of both our uniformed services to better connect with the communities we serve. 

When a building is found to be unsafe or an emergency evacuation is underway, the Charleston Fire Department is out knocking on doors and distributing fliers in traditionally underserved areas to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are never left behind. 

And when it became clear that the citizens who needed our protection most were often those who trusted us least, the Charleston Police Department actively embraced the process of a racial bias audit, and began working with the Illumination Project, community groups, and our city’s outstanding new diversity and racial conciliation manager, Amber Johnson, to establish strong relationships of mutual understanding and respect -- one neighborhood, one block, one citizen at a time.

My fellow citizens, these are the challenges -- flooding, traffic, affordable housing and public safety -- that this generation of Charlestonians has been called upon to solve. 

And that is why I would ask all our citizens to consider taking an active role in helping us address these issues. For flooding, perhaps you could join Sandy and me in planting a rain garden. For traffic, there may be times when a short bike ride just makes more sense than a frustrating, bumper to bumper back up behind the wheel. For affordable housing, if you have the means, a small contribution to one of the many nonprofits that work in this area would be greatly appreciated. And for public safety, please be open to working with our uniformed officers to help ensure your own safety and that of others.

Will these small, individual steps somehow suddenly solve these challenges? No. But they can and will make a difference. And I have no doubt that if we all come together to help solve these problems today, our work be remembered fondly when a future mayor, say, fifty years from now, welcomes our citizens to Charleston’s four hundredth birthday celebration. 

And that, of course, is the final test: What will history say of our time here? How will it judge our stewardship of Charleston in this hopeful, yet imperfect moment? And, here, I would respectfully suggest that if our own judgment of history teaches us anything, it is this: As passions fade, the old truths abide. All men and women are created equal. Love your neighbor as yourself. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. These are the words that speak to us down through the ages. And as long as we are working to make them manifest in the Charleston of today, I believe that history will say we did our part to help Charleston remain the Holy City.

And, now, in closing, let me simply say once again how grateful I am for this opportunity to serve my hometown. It is truly the honor of my life. And I am every bit as excited at the prospect of heading through these doors with our Council members and getting to work for our citizens as I was four years ago.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless and keep the great city of Charleston.