Joseph P. Riley Jr.

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Joseph P. Riley Jr.
60th Mayor of Charleston
In office
December 15, 1975 – January 11, 2016
Preceded byArthur B. Schirmer Jr.
Succeeded byJohn Tecklenburg
44th President of the United States Conference of Mayors
In office
Preceded byErnest Morial
Succeeded byRichard Berkley
Member of the
South Carolina House of Representatives
from Charleston County
In office
Personal details
Joseph Patrick Riley Jr.

(1943-01-19) January 19, 1943 (age 80)
Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materThe Citadel (BA)
University of South Carolina, Columbia (JD)

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. He graduated from The Citadel in 1964 and the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1967. As a member of the Democratic Party, he served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1968 to 1974.

Mayor of Charleston[edit]

In December 1975, Riley was elected the mayor of Charleston, becoming the second Irish Catholic to hold the position. He served for ten terms.[5] Riley was elected to his seventh term on November 2, 1999, with 71% of the vote; city councilman Maurice Washington received 29%.[6] 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%).[7]

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.[8] 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.[9] On July 10, 2015, the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina State House.[10]

Riley in 1985



During Riley's tenure, the city of Charleston annexed vast swathes of land, often parcel by parcel.[11] The most controversial annexation was that of Daniel Island in 1990.[11] Riley's critics for the annexation compared him to Saddam Hussein.[11][12] The city was able to annex Daniel Island despite the wishes of the Guggenheim Foundation which owned the island by annexing it alongside smaller but more valuable properties which offset the foundation's opposition.[11] Other annexations during Riley's tenure include Cainhoy Plantation, Long Savannah on Bees Ferry Road, and the Neck Area below North Charleston.[11]

Charleston Place[edit]

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.[13]

Other development projects[edit]

In 1987, Riley supported several projects meant to spur redevelopment, including a visitor center on upper Meeting Street and the Waterfront Park along the Cooper River.[14] Riley had a deal with a landowner allowing the city to purchase the land for Waterfront Park for $2.5 million. The land was estimated to be worth between $3.3 and $3.75 million.[15][16]

In 1989, Riley served on the selection committee for the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence.[17]

Riley's legacy project, which he describes as his "most important work" as mayor, is the International African American Museum.[18] 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 began in January 2020.[19]

Charleston Sofa Super Store fire[edit]

In 2007, the Sofa Super Store fire killed nine Charleston firemen after the roof of the building fell in. In response, Riley created a panel of outside experts to investigate the incident. The panel compiled a list of needed reforms to the fire department a week later.[20] In the aftermath, the International Association of Fire Fighters criticized Riley for being "anti-labor" and for failing to follow the National Incident Management System despite Governor Mark Sanford previously issuing an executive order to do so.[21]

Under Riley's management, the city of Charleston purchased the land where the Sofa Super Store once stood and made it a passive park.[22] Riley also controversially proposed making the Long Savannah Project, a county park currently being developed, as a memorial park.[22]

Social issues and climate change[edit]

Mother Emanuel Church shooting[edit]

Mayor Riley was mayor of Charleston on June 17, 2015, when the city experienced its deadliest mass shooting, known as the Charleston church shooting. Riley was friends with several of the victims including state senator Clementa C. Pinckney and arrived at the scene shortly after being called by the police chief.[23] In the wake of the shooting, Riley stated that "nine beautiful, loving people in a meeting about prayer and their religion were killed by a maniac" and that the country didn't "let bad people like this get away with these dastardly deeds."[24] He also called for stricter gun control laws, stating that "there are far too many guns out there, and access to guns, it's far too easy. Our society has not been able to deal with that yet.”[25]

Sea level rise[edit]

Over the decades that he served as mayor, many extreme weather events such as hurricanes flooded the city, and these flood events increased over time as a result of global warming and sea level rise. Riley worked to implement flood management programs, and released a Sea Level Rise Strategy just before leaving the office.[26]

Other ventures[edit]

From 1986 to 1987, Riley served as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and on its executive committee. He founded the Mayors' Institute on City Design.[27] In 1994, Riley ran for Governor of South Carolina. He finished second in the Democratic primary behind Lieutenant Governor Nick Theodore.[28]

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.[citation needed] He is also on the board of selectors of Jefferson Awards for Public Service.[29]

Awards and recognition[edit]

  • President of the National Association of Democratic Mayors (1988–1992)
  • Outstanding Mayors Award by the National Urban Coalition (1983)[30]
  • Distinguished Citizen Award by the National Association of Realtors
  • South Carolina's Order of the Palmetto
  • South Carolinian of the Year[31]
  • Verner Award by the South Carolina Arts Commission (1982)
  • Municipal Leader of the Year by American City & County (1991)[32]
  • Thomas Jefferson Award from the American Institute of Architects for Public Architecture (1994)[33]
  • Seaside Prize from the Seaside Institute (1997)[34]
  • President's Award from the U. S. Conference of Mayors, for outstanding leadership (2000)[35]
  • Urban Land Institute J. C. Nichols Prize for Visionary Urban Development (2000)[36]
  • Keystone Award, by the American Architectural Foundation (2002)
  • One of the twenty-five most dynamic mayors in America, Newsweek Magazine (1996)[37]
  • The American Society of Landscape Architects named him an Honorary Member, for leadership and vision
  • Recipient of The National Medal of Arts (2009)[38] – Presented by President Barack Obama

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kim Severson (November 5, 2011). "Term No. 10? Why Not, a Mayor Asks". The 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.
  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. ^ General Assembly, South Carolina (1972). "Legislative Manual – General Assembly of South Carolina".
  5. ^ Kropf, Schuyler (March 17, 2011). "Charleston's Irish Roots Go Deep". Charleston Post & Courier. p. 1A. Retrieved June 18, 2015.
  6. ^ "Riley re-elected Charleston mayor". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. November 3, 1999. p. C3. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  7. ^ "Riley Wins Eighth Term". Charleston Post & Courier. November 5, 2003. p. 1A. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  8. ^ Lolordo, Ann (April 2, 2000). "Mayor makes strides in Confederate flag dispute". Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon). p. 8A. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  9. ^ Davenport, Jim (April 7, 2000). "March ends with calls to haul down Confederate flag". Milwaulkee Journal Sentinel. p. 8A. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  10. ^ McCrummen, Stephanie (July 5, 2015). "Confederate flag comes down on South Carolina's statehouse grounds". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ a b c d e Slade, David (December 15, 2015). "Riley's hard-won legacy a growing, thriving city". Post and Courier. Retrieved 2021-12-29.
  12. ^ Bailey, Steve (April 7, 2018). "Charleston's annexation wars are over – the suburbs won". Post and Courier. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  13. ^ McDermott, John P. (September 1, 1996). "Charleston Place turns 10". Charleston Post & Courier. p. 1A. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Morgan, Kerri (December 2, 1987). "Chas. City Council Backs Buying Waterfront Land". Charleston News & Courier. p. A1. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  16. ^ "Opening Up The Waterfront". Charleston News & Courier. December 3, 1987. p. 10A. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  17. ^ "Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence". Selection Committees. Bruner Foundation. Archived from the original on January 7, 2014. Retrieved January 7, 2014.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "IAAM, the International African American Museum Is Now Under Construction". ArchDaily. 2020-01-22. Retrieved 2020-02-09.
  20. ^ "Charleston, SC Latest Local News: Panel assembled to review fatal blaze". 2008-06-02. Archived from the original on 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2020-02-10.
  21. ^ "The State | 06/30/2007 | Fire agency faces criticism". 2007-08-11. Archived from the original on 2007-08-11. Retrieved 2020-02-10.
  22. ^ a b "Riley suggests 2nd memorial in proposed county park". 2008-05-31. Archived from the original on 2008-05-31. Retrieved 2020-02-10.
  23. ^ Balchunas, Caroline (2017-06-16). "Mayor Riley recalls the night and aftermath of the Emanuel AME tragedy, two years later". WCIV. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  24. ^ Phillip, Abby; Costa, Robert (2015-06-19). "Emanuel tragedy pains Charleston's longtime mayor". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  25. ^ Costa, Robert (2015-06-18). "Shaken Charleston mayor: 'Far too many guns out there'". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  26. ^ "Former Mayor in South Carolina Led 40-Year Effort to Prepare for Natural Disasters". 27 October 2016. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  27. ^ "Mayors' Institute on City Design". Archived from the original on 2007-07-11.
  28. ^ "Riley to run for governor". The Item (Sumter, South Carolina). February 11, 1993. p. 1B. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  29. ^ "Board | youth community | service award | Jefferson". Archived from the original on 2010-11-24. Retrieved 2013-11-19.
  30. ^ "Urban Coalition Will Give Award To Mayor Riley". Charleston News & Courier. May 4, 1983. pp. 10–A. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ "Municipal magazine honors Mayor Riley". Charleston Post & Courier. December 24, 1991. p. 3B. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  33. ^ "Don't Make a Federalist Case Out of It". Charleston Post & Courier. April 13, 2001. p. B3. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  34. ^ Behre, Robert (April 26, 1997). "Riley honored today by Florida institute". Charleston Post & Courier. pp. 3–B. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  35. ^ Behre, Robert (June 18, 2000). "Mayors honor Riley". Charleston Post & Courier. pp. 1–B. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  36. ^ "Riley wins award for urban vision". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. July 8, 2000. p. B3. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  37. ^ "Charleston Mayor Joe Riley among 25 'mayors to watch'". The Item (Sumter, South Carolina). November 4, 1996. p. 6A. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  38. ^ White House Announces 2009 National Medal of Arts Recipients Archived 2010-05-05 at the Wayback Machine


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina
Succeeded by