Joseph P. Riley Jr.

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Joseph P. Riley Jr.
Joseph P. Riley, Jr. 2010.jpg
60th Mayor of Charleston
In office
December 15, 1975 – January 11, 2016
Preceded byArthur B. Schirmer Jr.
Succeeded byJohn Tecklenburg
Member of the
South Carolina House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Joseph Patrick Riley Jr.

(1943-01-19) January 19, 1943 (age 76)
Charleston, South Carolina
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materThe Citadel
University of South Carolina School of Law

Joseph Patrick Riley Jr. (born January 19, 1943) is an American politician who was the Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. He was one of the longest serving mayors in the United States that is still living,[1] having served 10 terms starting on December 15, 1975 and ending on January 11, 2016.[2][3][4]

Early life[edit]

The home of Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.

Riley was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and graduated from The Citadel in 1964, and the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1967. A member of the Democratic Party, he served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1968 to 1974.

Mayor of Charleston[edit]

First elected Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina in December 1975, Riley served for over ten terms. Riley was the city's longest serving executive and second Irish Catholic mayor.[5]

Riley in 1985

Riley's first major project was pushing the redevelopment of the central business district. City Council approved $12,500 for a feasibility study for a redevelopment plan on June 7, 1977. A Washington, D.C. consulting group recommended that the city should build a large hotel, commercial, and conference center, and the largely vacant 5-acre lot bounded by King, Meeting, Hasell, and Market streets was a prime candidate. In mid-1977, developer Theodore Gould made a proposal for a $40 million project to be known as the "Charleston Center." The conceptual plans called for a 14-story building with a 700-car parking garage, and preservationists came out strongly against the plans. On January 25, 1978, the first of several lawsuits was filed in an effort to scale back the massive size of the project. Work began in 1981 after several legal challenges. On May 16, 1983, revised plans were released showing the building as it would eventually appear: eight stories in the center but only four around the perimeter. When Gould was unable to secure financing, the city replaced him with new backers and renamed the project "Charleston Place." The center opened on September 2, 1986. Its final cost was approximately $75 million.[6]

Riley supported another project meant to spur redevelopment in 1987 with a proposal to build a visitor center on upper Meeting Street.[7]

Riley has pursued several projects involving public access to the city's waterfront. In 1987, he announced a deal that he had secretly negotiated with a property owner to purchase 5.53 acres of waterfront property along the Cooper River near the present site of the South Carolina Aquarium. The agreement resulted in the city's paying $2.5 million for the land worth between $3.3 and $3.75 million.[8][9]

In 1989, Riley served on the selection committee for the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence.[10]

Riley ran for Governor of South Carolina in 1994,[11] finishing second in the Democratic primary behind Lieutenant Governor Nick Theodore.

Riley is a member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, a bi-partisan group with a stated goal of "making the public safer by getting illegal guns off the streets." The Coalition was co-founded by former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Riley served as President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors for 1986–1987. He served on the USCM Executive Committee. He is a founder of the Mayors' Institute on City Design.[12]

Riley is on the Board of Selectors of Jefferson Awards for Public Service.[13]

Riley was elected to his seventh term on November 2, 1999 with 71% of the vote; city councilman Maurice Washington received 29%.[14]

When the Confederate battle flag was flown above the South Carolina statehouse, Riley organized a five-day protest walk from Charleston to Columbia to promote its removal.[15] The march began on April 2, 2000, with about 600 marchers; the crowd dropped dramatically during the week but rebounded to about 400 marchers before a protest held on the statehouse grounds on April 6, 2000.[16]

Riley won his eighth term as mayor in November 2003 in the city's first nonpartisan election with 57% of the vote against other candidates including Jimmy Bailey (32%) and Kwadjo Campbell (9%).[17]

Following a Sofa Super Store fire, which killed nine Charleston firemen, Riley proposed the city's purchase of the location of the fire and its development as a passive park.[18]

Riley's legacy project, which he describes as his "most important work" as mayor, is the International African American Museum.[19] Located on the former Gadsden's Wharf – the site where over 40% of all enslaved Africans brought to this country took their first steps – the museum is a $75MM project with world-class partners Ralph Applebaum & Associates and Pei Cobb Freed. Construction is supposed to begin sometime in 2018, and the museum is scheduled to open in 2020.[19]

After his service as mayor, Riley returned to The Citadel as a professor of American Government and Public Policy, a position which has been endowed and named for him.[20]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • President of the National Association of Democratic Mayors (1988–1992)
  • Outstanding Mayors Award by the National Urban Coalition (1983)[21]
  • Distinguished Citizen Award by the National Association of Realtors
  • South Carolina's Order of the Palmetto
  • South Carolinian of the Year[22]
  • Verner Award by the South Carolina Arts Commission (1982)
  • Municipal Leader of the Year by American City & County (1991)[23]
  • Thomas Jefferson Award from the American Institute of Architects for Public Architecture (1994)[24]
  • Seaside Prize from the Seaside Institute (1997)[25]
  • President's Award from the U. S. Conference of Mayors, for outstanding leadership (2000)[26]
  • Urban Land Institute J. C. Nichols Prize for Visionary Urban Development (2000)[27]
  • Keystone Award, by the American Architectural Foundation (2002)
  • One of the twenty-five most dynamic mayors in America, Newsweek Magazine (1996)[28]
  • The American Society of Landscape Architects named him an Honorary Member, for leadership and vision
  • Recipient of The National Medal of Arts (2009)[29] - Presented by President Barack Obama

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kim Severson (November 5, 2011). "Term No. 10? Why Not, a Mayor Asks". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-11-06. As far as people who keep track of these things can tell, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, S.C., has been in office longer than any other sitting American city mayor.
  2. ^ "City of Charleston Website – Biography on Riley Jr". Archived from the original on 2011-10-14. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ Counts, Henry (December 16, 1975). "Riley Promises Unification for City". The News and Courier. Charleston, SC. 153 (250): 1. Retrieved February 20, 2013.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Kropf, Schuyler (March 17, 2011). "Charleston's Irish Roots Go Deep". Charleston Post & Courier. pp. 1A. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
  6. ^ McDermott, John P. (September 1, 1996). "Charleston Place turns 10". Charleston Post & Courier. pp. 1A. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  7. ^ Rigsbee, Fred (October 14, 1987). "Riley Seeks Support For 2-Block Visitors' Center On Meeting St". Charleston News & Courier. pp. 3-B. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  8. ^ Morgan, Kerri (December 2, 1987). "Chas. City Council Backs Buying Waterfront Land". Charleston News & Courier. pp. A1. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  9. ^ "Opening Up The Waterfront". Charleston News & Courier. December 3, 1987. pp. 10A. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  10. ^ "Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence". Selection Committees. Bruner Foundation. Archived from the original on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  11. ^ "Riley to run for governor". The Item (Sumter, South Carolina). February 11, 1993. pp. 1B. Retrieved January 12, 2014. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |work= (help)
  12. ^ "Mayors' Institute on City Design". Archived from the original on 2007-07-11. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-11-24. Retrieved 2013-11-19. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "Riley re-elected Charleston mayor". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. November 3, 1999. pp. C3. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  15. ^ Lolordo, Ann (April 2, 2000). "Mayor makes strides in Confederate flag dispute". Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon). pp. 8A. Retrieved January 11, 2014. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |work= (help)
  16. ^ Davenport, Jim (April 7, 2000). "March ends with calls to haul down Confederate flag". Milwaulkee Journal Sentinel. pp. 8A. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  17. ^ "Riley Wins Eighth Term". Charleston Post & Courier. November 5, 2003. pp. 1A. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  18. ^ Smith, Bruce (June 28, 2007). "Mayor: City plans park on land where 9 firefighters died". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. pp. C2. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  19. ^ a b Kimmelman, Michael (March 28, 2018). "Charleston Needs That African American Museum. And Now". New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2018. Print version, "In Charleston, a Museum Long Past Due", March 29, 2018, p. C1, 4.
  20. ^ Diane Knich (November 7, 2014). "Charleston Mayor Joe Riley to return to The Citadel". Post and Courier. Charleston, SC. Retrieved April 28, 2016.
  21. ^ "Urban Coalition Will Give Award To Mayor Riley". Charleston News & Courier. May 4, 1983. pp. 10-A. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  22. ^ Williams, Barbara S. (February 11, 1990). "Riley closes door but expects a friend to run". Charleston News & Courier. pp. 12-A. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  23. ^ "Municipal magazine honors Mayor Riley". Charleston Post & Courier. December 24, 1991. pp. 3B. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  24. ^ "Don't Make a Federalist Case Out of It". Charleston Post & Courier. April 13, 2001. pp. B3. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  25. ^ Behre, Robert (April 26, 1997). "Riley honored today by Florida institute". Charleston Post & Courier. pp. 3-B. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  26. ^ Behre, Robert (June 18, 2000). "Mayors honor Riley". Charleston Post & Courier. pp. 1-B. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  27. ^ "Riley wins award for urban vision". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. July 8, 2000. pp. B3. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  28. ^ "Charleston Mayor Joe Riley among 25 'mayors to watch'". The Item (Sumter, South Carolina). November 4, 1996. pp. 6A. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  29. ^ White House Announces 2009 National Medal of Arts Recipients Archived 2010-05-05 at the Wayback Machine


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Arthur B. Schirmer Jr.
Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina
Succeeded by
John Tecklenburg