Written by 2021 CYP Chair, Maggie Wickey
Apparently, service is to politics what location is to real estate.
That’s according to three local mayors, who joined us April 20 to share how they got into politics and offer advice to any young professionals who are interested in a political career. Lauren Ellis, Marketing Coordinator at Sonepar, moderated an active discussion between Mayor Gregory Habib with the City of Goose Creek, Mayor Christie Rainwater with the City of Hanahan and Mayor Keith Summey with the City of North Charleston.
We kicked off the hybrid event asking each mayor to talk about how they got started in politics. Mayor Rainwater noted that she studied business and childhood education in college, and that politics wasn’t even on her radar until she was expecting her fourth child. She was working as a teacher when one of her friends asked her if she’d ever thought about going into politics, which planted a seed that would eventually sprout roots.
Mayor Habib talked about his time as president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry and explained that as he became more involved in his community, he began to notice issues that he wanted to address. After serving on city council for two years, he ran for Mayor because he felt like he understood what the City of Goose Creek could be.
Mayor Summey got his start by joining the North Charleston City Council in 1986. He was elected to Charleston City Council in 1988 and eventually became North Charleston’s third mayor in 1994.
When asked how young professionals can start working their way into politics, all three panelists had similar answers: community service. “You have to be a person of service first. You have to care about your community and be willing to put in the work,” said Mayor Habib.
Mayor Rainwater agreed and suggested that young professionals start by thinking about what they like to do. If you like working with children, consider coaching a little league team. If you’re into architecture or construction, think about volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. “As you do that, people will start to get to know you. They’ll see you making a difference. That’s a great place to start,” she said.
Mayor Summey recommended that young professionals, “think about how you want to see your community develop, and make your voice heard.” He mentioned becoming involved in your neighborhood and remaining an active member of the Chamber of Commerce.
Each of our panelists agreed that at the end of the day, politics is really about service. Mayor Rainwater noted that “you can serve the public without the title” and stressed that it’s important to enter politics knowing that your job is to be a public servant.
We closed the discussion by asking each mayor what issues young professionals should understand if they’re interested in a political career. Mayor Habib said it’s important to understand the impact different cities and neighborhoods have on each other and cited attainable housing, climate change and traffic as some of the key issues facing our region.
Mayor Summey agreed, noting that it’s critical for the Charleston area to enable people to live where they work. He explained that people traveling to and from work everyday is what causes congestion, and that we need to have a solid plan in place to help manage traffic flows in the future.
Mayor Rainwater talked about how important it is for anyone going into politics to have a strong team alongside you. She explained that no one can be an expert in everything, and that you need to be able to rely on others to provide you with the information you need to speak and act on the issues that are most prevalent your community.
She closed out our event with a realistic rallying cry: “The biggest thing you can do every day is show up. Show up for the people in your life and in your community. If you create value, the rest will fall into place.”