By Katy Calloway, Island Eye News Editor
What has prompted 11 Isle of Palms citizens to step up and offer to serve their local government? Considering the last council election was uncontested, it could be current issues and a discontent with how things are being run that has stirred so many to heed the call to public service. Or perhaps the new, easier process to file to run for elected office has pushed them to take action. Aspiring candidates no longer need to solicit door-to-door to garner 5% of voters support. Whatever the reason, the slate is filled with a diverse array of potential councilmembers who can bring a variety of backgrounds and experiences to council chambers. Island Eye News spoke to the candidates to find out what pushed them to run.
Several candidates have previous council experience, including two incumbents, Barbara Bergwerf and Patrick Harrington. Bergwerf is running for her third term in office and remains committed to environmental issues. “Without a pristine beach and protected marsh IOP would not be the place we know and love,” she told Island Eye News.
Previous councilmembers have also returned to the race, seeking to pick up where they left off.
Mike Loftus, who was on council for eight years, from 2008 to 2015 began his local political career in 2005 with a seat on the Planning Commission. Loftus said he, “Enjoy(s) the challenge and the hard work,” of government and says his experience leading large groups of people, gives him a “unique perspective on bringing people together over problems we face right now and future problems.”
Ryan Buckhannon is also no stranger to Council, having served four terms up until 2015, Buckhannon has raised three children on IOP and believes that social media may help bring government transparency to residents.
Patrick Harrington, sitting councilmember, is running for another term but could not be reached for comment.
Ralph Piening, who served on Council from 2008 to 2012, is also seeking re-election. Piening worked to establish short term rental regulations when he served previously and said, “I want to make sure IOP retains its residential character and I also want to make sure city government always puts the residents first. People that live on the island should be the priority.”
Newcomers to city politics include Susan Hill Smith, a freelance writer and the only candidate currently raising children on the island. Smith told Island Eye News, “My husband and I have been here for 23 years and have been raising three kids for most of those years. We are engaged parents and connected to the IOP community.”
Rusty Williamson, one of the first candidates to publicly announce his intention to run, has lived on the island since 2011, but has been coming here since 1996. He has worked in disaster preparedness and says he understands what it means to be prepared. Williamson’s believes his interests benefit both residents and tourists, telling Island Eye News that “Progress is inevitable and needs to be managed.”
Several candidates reflect the growing population of younger voters on the island and though not as politically seasoned as some of their competitors, bring unique experience to the race.
Justin Miklas is Executive Vice President of Clear Impact, a software company that works with nonprofits and governments to improve transparency and accountability. Speaking with Island Eye from Australia, he said, “I work with governments all across the world and I want to bring my passion back to the town that I love.” His contemporary, Jonathan Gandolfo, is also a small business owner and believes that people forget the City is a business. Having been visiting IOP for 25 years and as a resident for seven, he has “watched so many poor decisions coming out of local government, a lot of financial irresponsibility,” he says. He hopes to have opportunity to change that.
Randy Bell has also been vacationing on the beaches of IOP for about 25 years and has been a resident for four. He has an extensive business background including 41 years in the tech industry. He too is concerned about fiscal responsibility and believes, “that we aren’t acting as responsibly towards the citizens as we could be.”
John Moye’s family has been on IOP since the 1960s. He lived through Hurricane Hugo and vividly remembers island life before the storm. The lifestyle he experienced as a kid is something he hopes to preserve through a role with City Council, and ultimately share with children of his own. Moye told Island Eye, “I don’t ever want to leave, I want my kids to grow up on IOP.”
The 11 candidates are vying for one of four seats on the 8 member council, in an election to be held Tuesday, Nov. 7. The last day to register to vote is Saturday, October 7. Incumbent Mayor Dick Cronin is also up for reelection. Incumbent councilmember Jimmy Carroll is running against Cronin. Look for an article on the Mayoral race in the next issue of Island Eye News.
Island Eye News will provide full coverage of all the election issues this election season. Visit IslandEyeNews.com and click on the IOP Election tab for news on the candidates and issues.