Change is scary; change is hard. Especially after 40 years of stability and love in the hands of our beloved mayor, Joe Riley. Luckily, one twinkle of John Tecklenburg’s baby blue eyes and his cherubic smile are enough to assuage our fear of the unknown. Tecklenburg’s easy manner, benevolent air and general delight at simply being alive make him the lovable dorky dad we all wish we had.
Mayor Tecklenburg starts every morning arranging the pieces of his miniature model of Charleston.
“One day, all this will be a reality,” he said as he gleefully wound up the working trolley. He lovingly ran his finger over the little bike lanes lined with bike-sharing stations, propping up a parking meter the size of a pinkie finger that fell over while he hummed, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
After adding some trees to a new park in the tiny downtown, the mayor must attend to his regular duties – meetings, ribbon cuttings, press conferences, the like. He won the devotion of council members early on when he invited them all out for a game of catch. “Just to show that I’m really there for them,” he said.
“My father was a cold man. We weren’t close, but I never thought I was missing out,” said Councilman Chester Lear, still teary-eyed after a council meeting. “Then Mayor Tecklenburg ruffled my hair and called me ‘champ’ after I made a proposal. I lost it.”
In his first council as mayor, Tecklenburg organized a series of name games and sharing activities for council members. He opened with, “So what do you guys think the best ice breaker is?” He paused, then pulled out an ice pick, giggling.
In city meetings open to the public, Mayor Tecklenburg takes the time to tell every one of his people that he or she is special, unique and good – and he usually takes them all out for ice cream afterward. Attendance has since skyrocketed.
“I’ve never felt so loved and supported,” said Gina Manigaulliard. “After shaking his hand I felt like leaving the thug life and going back to school. Try to get my life together, you know? I don’t want to disappoint him.”
Tecklenburg has a unique way of addressing the concerns his people bring before him. “Mr. Mayor, we’re concerned about drainage and flooding in some of our neighborhoods,” one constituent said in an early February meeting.
“Well hi, Concerned-about-drainage! I am Mayor Tecklenburg,” he laughed. The audience groaned.
“Sure, his jokes are terrible, but he is just so darn adorable,” said Lear.
During a discussion on where to put residents of downtown “Tent City,”’ the mayor spoke passionately on the rights of the homeless. “We are all neighbors here, we must take care of each other.”
The city has been struggling to find shelter for “Tent City” residents around Dancing Riverdog Creek. With shelters and other accommodations filling up quickly, administration does not want to see anyone left out in the cold.
“You know, we could always just put one family on every corner,” said Tecklenburg, looking around the room expectantly, “because they’re all 90 degrees.” He had reportedly been sitting on that one for a while.
Mayor Tecklenburg’s infectious glee and sense of wonder have helped him heal wounds, build bridges and bring Charlestonians together. He orchestrated an armistice in the resident-tourist turf war over King Street, installing a tourist lane for slow walkers after disgruntled students started running tourists down with their new hoverboards.
Charleston’s carriage companies finally made peace with the animal rights activist over “Do the Neigh-Neigh,” an event allowing activists to set the horses free in the wild on the condition that they rounded them up and brought them back at the end of the week. Tecklenburg himself cut the ribbon on the barn door, but not before turning toward the horses to say, “Hey guys, why the long faces?”
He even invited the entire city over for a barbeque in his backyard. Everyone stood around the grill ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the mayor’s famous short ribs.
“The trick with these puppies here is to start by only lighting a few coals at a time, get a nice slow burn going.” Everyone nodded in agreement.
By the end of the barbecue, frat boys and old neighbors, meter maids and disgruntled drivers, police officers and activists in “Don’t Shoot” t-shirts were all hugging and laughing, saying, “We should really do this again sometime.”
Tecklenburg is fully expected to fulfill Charleston’s unique 40 year term requirement, and he’s already off to a great start. He gestured at his tiny cityscape, peppered with literate children and blossoming industries. “Someday all of this will be yours,” he said to the council members.
*This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of the Yard.