State of play: The 2021 Mayor’s Race

March 29, 2021

Who is going to run for mayor of Spartanburg?

I get that question about once a day, and have for the last couple of months. My answer: Someone will. Likely two or three someones. But until they file the paperwork and pay their filing fee, they ain’t running. They’re just talking.

But as long as we’re all here …

I don’t think the incumbent, Mayor Junie White, will seek a fourth term. I don’t think in an ideal world he would have sought a third term, but the state of play in 2017 wasn’t an ideal world. I might write more — a LOT more — about that in future blogs, but for now let’s keep it focused on 2021 and what might discourage people from making a run:

Mayor White seeks a 4th term:
Again, I don’t think this is likely, but if this mayor has proven one thing it’s that he is his own man. Any attempts to influence, cajole or finesse him either into or out of running are pointless — he’ll make his decision for himself and on his own timeline. That said, if he runs again, it will dissuade a number of potential candidates from giving it a go. And though he is now more than 80 years old, it’s important to remember this fact: White has run for office four times and has never won less than 57 percent of the vote — including against some very well-financed opponents with passionate volunteers. He would be a tough out.

The position is too small:
The job of Mayor of Spartanburg is a part-time position. It pays less than $20,000 a year. There is no staff support dedicated to the mayor’s office. There actually is no physical office. Hell, there’s not even a desk for the mayor in City Hall. Yet, the public expects the mayor to function like a full-time office-holder with their own dedicated full-time staff. And to be fair, right now, in this moment, Spartanburg needs a full-time mayor. The days of Spartanburg being run like a sleepy little hamlet by a small group of well-connected people should be coming to an end. At the same time, holding public office is a noble profession and should be treated as such. Making the mayor’s position in this town a full-time job with full-time pay would be a start toward recognizing that. Otherwise, expecting full-time results is foolish — and a lot of great candidates will decide against running as long as the mayor’s “job” is actually a glorified volunteer board chairman position.

The issues are too big:
This is related to point No. 2. There is a ton of work being done and a ton of work to do in Spartanburg today. From ongoing downtown development, to economic recruitment, to major neighborhood revitalization efforts, to a long-term commitment to addressing racial equity, to being prepared to lead in moments of crisis — the next mayor of Spartanburg needs to have a modern skillset, the right temperament, an unyielding desire to learn, and a world-class work ethic to meet the moment. There are but a few people who fit the bill, and, of those, even fewer willing to take all this on.

At the same time, the next mayor of Spartanburg will benefit from the same thing White has for the past 12 years: an excellent professional staff at the very top of City Hall. While the time has come for the city to add some additional muscle to areas of its professional staff — especially in development services, planning, and policy research and development — local government leaders don’t come any more capable, any more ethical or any more hard-working than City Manager Chris Story, Assistant City Manager Mitch Kennedy, Neighborhood Services Director Martin Livingston, Police Chief Alonzo Thompson and Fire Chief Marion Blackwell. They make the mayor’s job a helluva lot easier.

But that’s not to say the job will be easy. Not anymore. There are some people on the fence who would make a fine mayor — and how they deal with the three questions above will go a long way toward making a go-or-no-go decision. 

Filing for the position opens at noon on July 19 and closes at noon on Aug. 13.

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