Hilton Head Island's longest-serving Town Council member, Bill Ferguson, will face his first challenger since 2003 this year.
Native islander Marc Grant, owner of Grant's Mini Mart on Hilton Head, filed Tuesday to run in the November general election. He'll face Ferguson, whose health temporarily kept him from council work last year and who has been chided for public outburstsand a domestic-violence charge to which he pleaded guilty.
Grant, 42, who has never sought public office, taught seven years in the Clarke County School District in Athens, Ga., before serving as an assistant principal at Battery Creek, Beaufort and Bluffton high schools. He later became principal at Jasper County High School, before taking over the family business in 2008.
"I believe Mr. Ferguson has done a good job serving Ward 1 for more than 18 years, but believe I can offer a different perspective," Grant said Tuesday. "I believe Ward 1 would like to have a stronger voice in town decisions and more diverse input.
"I think I can be that voice and communicate with residents and constituents in Ward 1."
Ferguson has represented Ward 1 since 1993. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2010, receiving about 5 percent of the vote. When he was challenged in 2003 by John Ingram, the former head of the Hilton Head-Bluffton branch of the NAACP, he won by 35 votes.
In 2007, native islander Irv Campbell withdrew his bid for the council seat after learning Ferguson would run for re-election.
Ferguson, 64, has brushed aside criticism of his erratic behavior. The native islander was scolded last year by colleagues and residents for accosting a fellow council member before a meeting, calling him a bigot, and disrupting proceedings before storming out.
Ferguson later apologized and said his behavior stemmed from health problems. He was relieved of committee duties on doctors' orders and later was hospitalized in Charleston for undisclosed reasons. He returned to his council duties two weeks later, after being released from a VA Hospital.
He told The Island Packet in June that his health has improved and he is managing his medication.
"It's good for the community," Ferguson said Tuesday of facing a challenger. "I have a feeling a couple more will emerge as well. It will be good for Ward 1 residents to get different perspectives of what is happening in Ward 1, and I look forward to hearing any challenger's platform."
Ferguson said he stands by his record on council and wants another term to build upon progress made in Ward 1 through his leadership, namely recent projects expanding sewer service in the area.In other races, Ward 3 Councilman Lee Edward got a new challenger Monday. Andrew Jablonecki II, 28, filed to run against Edwards. Jeff Myers, chief operating officer for island laser-component manufacturer Kigre, filed last week to run for the seat.
Filing closes at noon Aug. 15.
"I applaud Lee for what he's done," Jablonecki said. "He's a fantastic business owner. But I would like to interject some new, fresh, younger ideas."
Edwards is president and CEO of island landscaping company The Greenery, Inc. Jablonecki sells golf apparel and once owned an alterations and tailoring business in Bluffton.
He says he has a political science degree from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Though Edwards is only 44, Jablonecki believes he represents a different, younger demographic that's missing from island politics.
"The island is getting younger and the town has done well to cater to young professionals and young families," Jablonecki said. "But, I'd like to take away the voter apathy my age group and young families have. Hopefully, by seeing me run, that can be done."
If elected, he'd push to set aside more town-owned land for outdoor recreation. He'd also likethe Hilton Head Island Airport runway to be extended beyond the 5,400-feet called for in a master plan approved by town and Beaufort County councils in 2010.In Ward 6, Ken Heitzke, 83, the other incumbent whose seat is up for re-election, said Monday he will not run. Before being elected in 1997 to represent Ward 6, Heitzke served 18 years on town council in Monroe, Conn., including six years as mayor. He also served in the Army for 30 years, including tours in Korea and Vietnam, and reached the rank of Colonel.
"I had been agonizing over this for quite a while," Heitzke said. "But I believe 63 years of public service and at age 83 is enough."
Health was a factor. Heitzke said he received a wake-up call two years ago after undergoing triple-bypass surgery. He now faces a hip replacement.He said he will not endorse a candidate in the race.
Former town Parks & Recreation Commission chairman John McCann, 71, and former mayoral candidate Jim Collett, 65, filed last week to run for Heitzke's seat.