What the candidates in Rock Hill said, or didn’t, is about to be past. What matters now is what voters say Tuesday when Rock Hill holds a runoff to elect a new mayor and a city council member.
The leadership of this city -- which continues to grow, and prosper, yet struggle with pockets of poverty that cannot be denied -- is not up to those seeking to lead. It’s up to the voters.
The vote is a powerful right. Even on Halloween.
In a city election, the decision is about the things that matter most to the people: their roads and economics; their police and fire protection; their homes and families.
“What the act of voting does is legitimize for every person who votes their belief in this great American democracy,” said Karen Kedrowski, a Winthrop dean and political science professor who has spent her adult life studying and teaching about elections and voting. “A city election like this affects people in their everyday lives, and their quality of life, more than any state or national election. Who local leaders are affects the lives of people. To vote in such an election is a very patriotic act.”
The concept of patriotism, what it is or isn’t, has been debated in America in recent weeks. Good people who love this country have disagreed. But on voting, there is no disagreement.
Charlie Funderburke is a retired military lieutenant colonel who spent 43 years and two wars in the service after growing up in an orphanage.
“Voting is freedom,” Funderburke said.
Funderburke is 79 years old and was asked if he plans to vote Tuesday.
“You bet I am,” Funderburke said. “And I hope everybody else who cares about this city does too.”
Turnout for the Oct. 17 general election left William “Bump” Roddey and John Gettys Tuesday for mayor. About 18 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Runoffs typically get less turnout than general elections.
This is in America, a Rock Hill, that is so patriotic its National Guard soldiers are now in Puerto Rico helping fellow Americans after a hurricane. Those soldiers from Rock Hill’s 178th Combat Engineers left jobs and families to live in tents on a baseball field so others might have a roof and electricity.
Other soldiers from that unit, hundreds of them after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to bring democracy to places that never had a competitive, legitimate election like the one in Rock Hill Tuesday.
“I remember being moved over there when I saw people who would walk miles in hostile places, risk their lives and their safety, to vote,” said Rock Hill’s Joe Medlin, recently retired from the 178th. Medlin served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the last deployment he was the sergeant major for the unit and the top enlisted man for hundreds of York County soldiers in combat. One of his jobs was making sure all soldiers had registered for absentee voting.
Then for years Medlin was York County’s Veterans Service Officer, where his entire job was getting veterans the benefits they had earned while fighting so we could vote.
“Voting is a significant and important act of patriotism,” Medlin said.
A city election is not sexy. And in this case, it’s non-partisan -- meaning political parties, at least in theory, are not a factor. But the future of the city’s people will be impacted, said Kedrowski, who hosted a debate between the candidates last week.
If someone lives in the city, and they care about the decisions that will shape its future, this is “their big shot,” Kedrowski said. “As far as quality of life goes, there is nothing more important in the city than this election. It is a huge deal.”
The mayor’s race is especially crucial. The mayor in any city is the “public face of the city,” Kedrowski said.
The last time Rock Hill elected a new mayor its population was about 45,000. Now it is about 70,000.
How many voters are willing to take a few minutes Tuesday to express their patriotism?