After nearly two years on the sidelines — or, more accurately, in front of the smoker tending to ribs and pork butts — former Bluffton Town Councilman and Bluffton BBQ owner Ted Huffman is making a play to re-enter local politics.
Huffman last week threw his hat into the ring for the upcoming council election in November.
But if he wants his old council seat back, he’ll have to best at least one of two incumbents — Councilmen Fred Hamilton and Larry Toomer are running for re-election — and any other challenger who might enter the race over the next month.
“I’ve won before and I feel like I can do it again,” said Huffman, who was ousted after the 2015 election by challengers Dan Wood and Harry Lutz.
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While Huffman said he respects his former council colleagues, “the current administration is lacking in the vision department.”
Both Toomer and Hamilton disagree with that assessment and say they hope to maintain a level of continuity on the council.
“I’m very pleased to be part of the council we have now,” Toomer said. “We don’t always agree, but we always respect each other.”
Hamilton echoed the sentiment, saying he “think(s) the council we have presently has been very focused and demonstrated strong leadership.”
The issue Huffman repeatedly cites is the parking crunch in Old Town.
Town leaders “seem to mean well but none of them have skin in the game like I do,” said Huffman, whose restaurant is smack dab in the middle of the historic district’s busy Promenade shopping and dining area.
“The Promenade has become the town’s parking lot,” he said. “The administration has failed to see the urgency.”
Huffman said “the town has some good projects in the mix” to address the issue, but is taking an approach that is too piecemeal.
In recent months, the town has purchased parcels of land around Old Town for future parking areas, entered shared parking agreements owners of underused lots, implemented parking time restrictions on certain roads, and started to add additional on-streets spaces.
Huffman was part of a group that unsuccessfully lobbied the town last year to buy a roughly 3-acre parcel of undeveloped land adjacent to the Promenade for the purpose of building a 250-space parking lot.
Parking, of course, isn’t the only issue facing the town in the run-up to the election.
Hamilton, who leads Bluffton’s Affordable Housing Committee, said he is proud of the work town leaders have done to address housing issues, but that work isn’t finished.
“We’re growing rapidly, but I want to make sure we grow smart,” he said. “Part of that means we do whatever we can to make sure we don’t lose our character and diversity because people can’t afford to live in Bluffton anymore.”
Huffman said he understands the importance of affordable housing but questions the role town government should play in the issue.
“It seems to me that there are more important issues the town needs to deal with before getting into the housing business,” he said.
Toomer, owner of Bluffton Oyster Co., said protecting the May River will always be a priority for him.
Over the past several years, the town has been involved with projects to remove old septic tanks — which can leak contaminants into waterways — and get homes connected to the sewer system.
Toomer said if he’s re-elected he will work toward the “goal of ridding the town of all the septic tanks.”
While none of the three men said they particularly enjoy the campaigning process, they agreed that it gives them an opportunity to speak with residents and get a better sense of what issues matter most to constituents.
“Serving (on the council) was one of the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done, and I still have that fire in my belly,” Huffman said.
Bluffton Town Council election is set for Nov. 7. Candidates must file their intent to run for one of the two at-large seats by Sept. 8 and voters must be registered no later than Oct. 6.