September 22, 2015

Charleston Mayoral Candidates Talk Tech

Suzelle Santos  /  Silicon Harbor Magazine

Drinks, conversation, and camaraderie kicked off Charleston's first ever Mayoral Tech Mixer Thursday, September 10th at Flagship2.

Some of the candidates hoping to take the reins from Mayor Joe Riley in 2016 talked about how they'd make room for the Charleston tech community's interests should they be elected. Mayoral hopefuls Maurice Washington, Toby Smith, Leon Stavrinakis, John Tecklenburg, and Ginny Deerin were attendance, in addition to around 50 innovators and creatives invested in Silicon Harbor's progress. Candidate William Dudley Gregorie was unable to attend due to the loss of a loved one.

The event was sponsored by the Charleston Digital Corridor, BoomTown, BiblioLabs, Blue Acorn, and PeopleMatter.

The candidates were asked a series of questions then given two minutes to answer each one. Some of the recurring themes in questioning were housing affordability, transportation, education and jobs.

The candidates all shared ideas on the importance they see tech playing in Charleston's economy and their support of it.

Maurice Washington

"We have to invest in education and we have to invest in workforce development so people can increase their wages to afford diverse income housing at various levels. The core of the problem is education, and that's one of the tech industry's greatest threats," said Washington, who added that the worst six schools of the 207 schools in the state of South Carolina are from Charleston County.

"I will work head to head with this industry to ensure that the resources and partnership necessary to advance your ideas are in place."

Leon Stavrinakis

"Your next mayor has to make this industry a priority," said Stavrinakis. "It's one of the pillars of Charleston's economic future." He said the other pillars include hospitality, manufacturing, and our port.

"Last year when a technology and innovation company was trying to plant its roots in SC and the old guard was trying to run them out of the state, I stepped up. That company was Uber. (...) I introduced the first bill to legalize and close down the attempts to run Uber out of South Carolina. I served on the conference committee that made the law, we passed that law, and Uber is here to stay. "

Toby Smith

"There is a community that I drive by every morning off of Morrison Dr., and it's guarded. Not gated, but guarded because of all sorts of activities that go on," said Smith. "In that community there is a beautiful village of children that play from sun up to sun down. There's an empty building there that could be used for a community center. And I keep thinking, why doesn't someone build a community center so we can go in there and teach kids about something other than what they're seeing?" Smith said the work people in Charleston's tech community are doing provides an opportunity to change the trajectory of the kids, who otherwise wouldn't see anything different.

John Tecklenburg

"The two most critical things in most people's lives are housing costs and being able to get around conveniently. We already have a disconnect point in Charleston where we have on average 80 percent of the national income, but our housing costs are 20 percent," said Tecklenburg about our region.

"As mayor, I would put out a request and partner with a developer to get [the Flagship 3] underway," he said. He used to be the economic director for the city of Charleston.

Ginny Deerin

"My top goal in economic development will be to nurture and grow the invocation and technology sector of our economy and we just cannot do it without a fiber optic network," said Deerin, who said that can be done by winning the Google Fiber competition, working with local providers, or creating a municipal network.

"When I saw a gap in education 20 years ago, I started WINGS for Kids, which is an infective after school program. Years later we've served thousands of kids," said Deerin. She said she was playing a word game with a few fourth-grade boys one day and realized none of them knew what college was. Deerin suggested adding density to government housing like Robert Mills Manor on Beaufain St. and making that housing available to the innovative workforce as well. "Now all of a sudden, across from one of our fourth graders is a software engineer. And that's a beautiful thing."

Deerin suggested opening up city data and challenging coders to come up with apps and tools that can help Charleston, much like New York Big Apps.

All mayoral candidates agreed that Charleston's tech community is an integral part of the city's future.

Voters in Charleston will be able to cast their ballots for mayor on November 3. The last day to register to vote is October 3.