Politics can reward colorful characters. And Curwood Chappell owes at least part of his success as a long-time York County councilman to his penchant for plain talk, common sense and flamboyant rhetorical outbursts.
Chappell was elected to the council’s District 5 seat 11 times. In many of those election years, he found himself among the few surviving incumbents as voters, for one reason or another, decided to clean house.
Some years it would be a politically controversial issue that cost members their seats. Other years it was political, with members of one party unseating incumbents from another party.
And through it all, for nearly 22 years, Chappell was immune. His loyal constituents – his “people” – kept returning him to office.
In six of the 11 races, he had no opposition. He has had opponents in the past four elections, perhaps because they saw him as vulnerable because of his age (he’s now 84).
But he beat all comers handily, apparently unfazed by any senior infirmities.
In 2010, Chappell initially indicated that he would not run for re-election. But as the filing deadline neared, he changed his mind, saying that his people had insisted that he run again.
During an interview in 2012, he swore to The Herald’s editorial board that, if he won, it would be his last term. Board members could be forgiven their skepticism.
But, sure enough, when the filing deadline ended at noon last Sunday, Chappell’s name was not on the list of candidates for the District 5 seat. He had quietly decided to sit this one out.
However, he was back giving a news conference on Tuesday, endorsing Rock Hill lawyer Christi Cox, one of two candidates in the Republican primary for the seat in an election that will feature no Democrats. The other candidate is Marty Taylor, a Fort Mill building inspector, with whom Chappell has butted heads in the past.
In 2008, Taylor and a business associate set up a corporation to develop a landfill in the Clover area. But the county council, with Chappell’s urging, voted to enact a countywide moratorium against landfills, which sparked legal action against the county seeking millions in damages that has yet to be resolved.
Taylor ran unsuccessfully against Chappell in the 2010 GOP primary. He said this year that he has divested all authority to pursue the legal claims to his management company.
The battle over landfills was one of those instances in which Chappell said he acted as a result of a clamoring from his constituents. He was determined that neither this landfill nor one in York would be built against the objections of many residents.
Many voters have always viewed Chappell as a champion for the little guy, the people with no direct pipeline to power. And Chappell always has said that his motivation for running for office has been to serve the interests of his constituents.
Some would say that is courageous. Others contend that Chappell often found a parade and got in front of it. Either way, though, he and a majority of those he represented usually were in sync.
There was also some disagreement over whether his tirades during council meeting were refreshingly candid or just mean-spirited and obtuse. Chappell was known to call people “Nazis” when he disagreed with them.
But all that was part of the image, part of what made Chappell popular with many and memorable with many more. No one could accuse him of trying to change that image to suit one group or another.
If nothing else, he always has been entirely himself.
The residents of York County owe him a debt of gratitude for more than two decades of public service, during which time he usually was just a phone call away from a constituent in need. Good wishes to him in the days ahead.