In mayor’s race, a tale of 2 Darlingtons
By Bobby Bryant, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week, the News & Press published a 3,300-word Voters’ Guide to the Nov. 5 city of Darlington elections (and a big tip of the hat to Dyan Cohen of the Darlington County League of Women Voters for pulling that together).
One of the League’s questions submitted to all the candidates was: “To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Darlington is well-positioned for growth and prosperity.”
That was the only “scale” question on the League’s list, meaning each candidate was supposed to basically check a box:
Neither agree nor disagree.
In the mayor’s race, Mayor Gloria Hines “strongly agreed” with that statement. “There is growth and prosperity for Darlington,” she explained. “It’s all about networking with other municipalities and hiring qualified people …”
Challenger Curtis Boyd, who has been Hines’ most visible rival for the post, went as far as he could go in the opposite direction on that question. He “strongly disagreed.” He explained: “Under the current elected leadership, Darlington is destined to become a ghost town. Severe debt, lack of a clear plan to change and political inaction are all stifling opportunities for Darlington to prosper.”
(Hines’ other challenger, City Council member Carolyn Bruce, did not respond to that question or most other items on the League’s questionnaire. But in public comments, she’s seemed to take a sort of middle ground between Hines and Boyd – more change-oriented than Hines, but less dramatic than Boyd.
(In an interview with the News & Press last week, Bruce was nostalgic for the old Darlington: “I moved back home in 2015 after living in Atlanta for about 10 years. When I would come home and visit my family, I noticed that the city was at a standstill. … I can remember as a child, going downtown with my grandmother, and you had the Larry’s and the Coggeshall’s and the Belk’s and the B.C. Moore’s, and there was just a lot of motion downtown, a lot of movement.”)
So when Hines looks ahead, she sees “growth and prosperity” for “this great city.” When Boyd looks ahead, he sees the specter of “a ghost town.” They’re both living in the same town, seeing the same people, driving the same streets. But they’re seeing radically different futures, like characters in a science-fiction movie.
We’re facing a dark fate, Boyd says, but elect me and I’ll prevent that. No, we’re doing pretty well, Hines says. Elect me and I’ll stay the course.
Which one is right? Hines? Boyd? Neither? Both?
Most big elections – and all presidential elections – are referendums on how the voters feel about the direction we seem to be going in. If you feel pretty good about things, you tend to keep the current management. If not, you tend to hire new management.
You can point to things that seem to support Hines’ view: We did get a Wal-Mart during her term as mayor, but the years of groundwork needed to bring that about took place under other leadership. We did complete a major piece of work to upgrade the city’s stormwater system. “Project Peach” – and no one will say exactly what that is – promises to bring some kind of big expansion to Georgia-Pacific’s facilities in town. The permitting fees alone should be a windfall for the city government. And we are in fact getting a Sonic drive-in restaurant, although work has been going agonizingly slowly if you’re counting the days until Darlington gets super-milkshakes.
Likewise, you can point to things that seem to support Boyd’s view. No one who got stuck in floods this summer – floods that came from more or less typical hot-weather thunderstorms – can argue with Boyd when he says, “Our city’s drainage and sewage services are woefully inadequate and in need of repair.” No one who’s been to Hartsville lately would argue when Boyd says, “We are 40 years behind our neighboring cities in development of recreational facilities.”
And as City Councilman Bryant Gardner noted in his League of Women Voters responses, Darlington has shrunk about 20 percent over the past two U.S. Census Bureau headcounts.
Two candidates, looking at the same town, but seeing a very different present and a totally different future. Next week, the voters get to say which viewpoints they “strongly agree” with.