NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Keith Summey’s name will not be on the ballot for North Charleston mayor this November for the first time in nearly three decades.
Summey, 76, announced in March that he would not seek re-election at the end of his term.
“I’m just not in it this time,” he said. “I’m in a position where I know I’m leaving it better than i found it and in life that’s all we can ask for.”
When he came into office in 1994, Summey says North Charleston — which has become a major industrial and economic hub for South Carolina — was much different.
“A lot of turmoil was going on,” he recalled. “The [Navy] Base was closing, people thought we were going to lay down and die. Instead, we’ve grown.”
He faced tough challenges over the years from managing the city’s growth to the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott. But, Summey believes his greatest accomplishment was revamping the city’s image.
“The greatest accomplishment is probably that we’re not ignored anymore,” he shared. “We’re part of everything that’s a necessity for this area. North Charleston is looked up to today instead of down at. We didn’t have a lot of respect.”
During his tenure, Mayor Summey was instrumental in revitalizing the area surrounding the former Navy Base, attracting major corporations like Boeing and Roper St. Francis Hospital, and building new parks, playgrounds, and community resources to support the growing population.
“I can say we’ve had more successes than we’ve had disappointments, but if you don’t try things, you don’t get anywhere,” he said.
But not all of those efforts were met with open arms, Summey remembers. He faced criticism throughout his career with some accusing him of failing to adequately address issues like affordable housing, crime, and food deserts.
“When I first was elected to public office I used to get so upset if somebody disagreed with what I was doing and I’ve had to learn not to have such soft skin,” he said.
The mayor also recalled how some of his more progressive decisions, like supporting a city-wide LGBTQ+ pride festival, elicited mixed feedback from the community and other elected officials.
“I represent every citizen of the city of North Charleston, not just the ones that vote for me, not just the ones I agree with in lifestyle or anything else. I have to live with the decisions that I make and I have to know in my heart that I’ve done what I think is best for the community.”
Summey knows it is time for new leadership in the city, vowing to support whoever is elected to replace him, and offering himself as a resource.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “I wish we could’ve accomplished even more. I love my city enough that I want to see it continue to flourish and I want it to be a place that my kids, and grandkids, and great-grandkids will want to say ‘this is home.’”