By Patra Taylor

On a steamy Wednesday afternoon in July excitement began building in Haynie campaign headquarters located on McKnight Road in Mt. Pleasant. Back in October Will Haynie announced he would run for mayor; now the first-term town council member was about to make it official during the kick-off of his campaign that promises, “new leadership and new direction” for one of the fastest growing cities in America.

As the festivities at Haynie for Mayor headquarters were getting underway and just a few miles away, a construction tarp atop the Don Holt Bridge broke lose and fell onto the roadway, trapping about a dozen cars and their passengers, bringing traffic on the bridge to a halt. Dubbed “tarpageddon” in the blogosphere, the event resulted in severe traffic congestion along Mt. Pleasant’s already overburdened throughways.

It seemed prophetic that as Mr. Haynie presented his vision for the future of Mt. Pleasant while, right outside his campaign headquarters, traffic was backed up in every direction. “My wife, Suzette, had to pick up our daughter at the airport and it took her over an hour to get from Boone Hall to the foot of the Cooper River Bridge,” noted Mr. Haynie, whose campaign headquarters is visible from Highway 17 North.

While the circumstances surrounding “tarpageddon” were extraordinary by any measure, those traveling through Mt. Pleasant in recent months continue to encounter unprecedented traffic congestion almost daily, giving them plenty of time in their vehicles to contemplate the new normal along the town’s highways and byways, as well as the other serious issues that have intruded on their once “pleasant” lifestyle.

According to Mr. Haynie, a number of supporters never made it to his campaign kick-off because of the incident on the Don Holt Bridge, though the mayoral hopeful still found himself surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of citizens supporting his vision for their beloved town.

“The thing I love about running for mayor in Mt. Pleasant is that it’s non-partisan,” states Mr. Haynie. “It’s like I tell people, there is no conservative or liberal, no Democratic or Republican view of densities, building heights, setbacks or tree ordinances. Concern over the rapid rate of growth brings us together. I tell my supporters that if they’re expecting to use me or my campaign to try to promote their partisan politics, they’re in the wrong campaign.”

Born in Greenville, S.C., Mr. Haynie moved with his family to Mt. Pleasant in 1966. “I spent the happiest days of my boyhood here, playing in the Old Village and walking to Pitt Street Pharmacy for their legendary Cherry Cokes,” he recalls. “When I was in first grade at East Cooper School, the teachers there put me in my first leadership position.”

After completing high school in Sumter where his father re-located his family to establish a medical practice, Mr. Haynie returned to the area to attend The Citadel where he earned a degree in business administration in 1983. There he rose to regimental commander, the highest cadet rank, was elected commander of the Summerall Guards and received the Palmetto Medal Award, the highest award for leadership and principle that can be conferred on a cadet by the college.

“Attending The Citadel was one of the defining experiences of my life in terms of shaping my personality and my thoughts as a leader,” continues Mr. Haynie. “That experience was a milepost in the development of my leadership skills.”

Through the years, his professional life has included leadership roles in several non-profit organizations including the Lowcountry Land Trust and the South Carolina Maritime Foundation. He also worked as a columnist for several newspapers, did a stint as a talk radio show host and served as a congressional press secretary. Today, Mr. Haynie owns a media/marketing/PR advisory firm in Mt. Pleasant.

Mr. Haynie admits he choose an interesting time in the history of Mt. Pleasant to jump into the race for mayor. A town so deeply rooted in the past now seems to be moving at the speed of light into the future, leaving many citizens dazed and breathless in the wake of such rapid growth. His naturally humorous and upbeat personality takes on a serious tone when he talks about the challenges facing his adopted hometown.

“It’s just too much,” insists Mr. Haynie. “I hear it everywhere I go. I have not had even one rank-and-file citizen come up to me in my capacity as a councilman or as a fellow citizen to say they love the rate of growth going on right now. No one has told me they love the traffic. No one has said they love the fact that everywhere in Mt. Pleasant where there were trees yesterday, there’s a bulldozer today. Yes, there are some folks who get paid by certain organization to lobby for this growth and I’m sure they are happy with what’s happening. But I have yet to meet one rank-and-file citizen who tells me to keep it going.”

During the building boom of the last few years, Coleman Boulevard, for example, has taken on an entirely new character. A high-rise apartment building and a highly-controversial parking garage still have residents wondering exactly when the vision for their town changed so dramatically.

Mr. Haynie believes the town’s leadership has adopted a vision for the town that is contrary to the vision of most of its citizens. Since taking office last year, Mr. Haynie has joined forces with councilmen Joe Bustos, Jim Owens and Gary Santos, to try to put the brakes on the run-away train that is development in Mt. Pleasant.

“The government in Mt. Pleasant is based on a weak mayor/strong council system,” says Mr. Haynie. “Unlike Charleston where the mayor has a lot of executive authority, the only real power in the mayor’s position in Mt. Pleasant is your ability to lead. The mayor must exert positive leadership that has a vision. I don’t see that right now.”

The candidate understands just how difficult it is for most citizens to keep up with all the construction projects planned or underway in Mt. Pleasant. Along Highway 17 North he points to the new Costco that’s currently under construction, the plans for a regional stadium and a Home Depot being considered to replace the old Laing Middle School building.

“Across from Mt. Pleasant Towne Centre seeing all the trees came down and the multi-story apartments began going up — broke my heart,” Mr. Haynie confesses.       “My opponent, the current mayor, was quoted in a newspaper article as saying that project was a great accomplishment and that it represented a community vision. I stand in stark contrast to that. I’m not just another guy who wants to be mayor. I actually offer a 180-degree difference in the direction we’re currently going.”

Staying engaged with the citizenry and encouraging those with a similar vision for the town to get involved are areas in which Mr. Haynie plans to exert his leadership talents. “I think we need some women on Town Council,” he says. “I’d love to see that.”

“For the leadership of this town to let it get to where your own long-term residents talk to me about leaving, that’s a failure of leadership,” concludes Mr. Haynie. “That’s why we need new leadership and a new direction for Mt. Pleasant.”

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.