Port Royal will be electing its first new mayor since 1995, following the retirement of Sam Murray. And both towns have three candidates seeking two open seats on Town Council. Lisa Sulka, Bluffton’s mayor since 2008, is unopposed.
The town of Port Royal is at a crucial moment in its long and storied history, and Joe DeVito is best suited to lead the way as mayor.
His opponent, incumbent Mayor Pro Tempore Mary Beth Gray-Heyward, has served admirably on Town Council since 1992. She was reared in town, raised her daughter there, works there and has a rare level of institutional knowledge on council. We embrace her insistence that the public have views and access to the river as the old state port site is developed.
But DeVito has greater leadership skills, shown in his record of involvement in Port Royal and the county since moving from New York in 1986. He has ideas, energy and knows the ins-and-outs of infrastructure and planning regionally. He was a foreman with the city of Beaufort utilities department and then field operations manager for the Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority for a total of almost 30 years.
He has been on planning boards for two decades, including two terms as chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Commission serving Beaufort and Port Royal. This involves the minutiae of development, as well as long-term decisions on issues dear to the community.
Recently, he has chaired the town’s Short-Term Rental Task Force, navigating it through an emotionally charged issue. He also chairs the board of the Spanish Moss Trail, a 10-mile greenway through northern Beaufort County.
None of these jobs is easy, and shows that he has the leadership skills Port Royal needs at this time.
For Town Council, we recommend incumbents Jerry Ashmore and Robert Landrum ahead of challenger Kevin Phillips for their longevity in the community and firm grasp of issues before the council.
In Bluffton, we recommend incumbent Dan Wood and challenger Bridgette Frazier for the two open seats on the five-person Town Council.
Wood has a firm grasp of the community through his civic involvement, and he supports initiatives for the town that are important: land-buying, parks, environmental protection and historic preservation. We like his idea of a larger Town Council for one of the state’s fastest-growing municipalities.
Wood’s fellow incumbent, Harry Lutz, is a solid candidate. He points to his advocacy for parks and expanded sewer service as highlights of his first term. He is a local business owner who lives in the “new Bluffton,” where his neighbors in Hampton Hall swept him to victory over an incumbent four years ago. The booming new areas of Bluffton need more representation at Town Hall.
But Bridgette Frazier, a 36-year-old school teacher, caterer, food truck operator and community activist, would bring a much rarer voice to the table. She speaks as a person of the town’s median age who is grinding out a living and building hometown pride under the policies formed by Town Council.
She was reared in Bluffton and ratcheted up its Martin Luther King Jr. commemorations as leader. She has ideas and speaks her mind. But we have seen it as constructive voice. She has the potential to shake things up for the good, to air things out and disagree agreeably. Bluffton Town Council could use that.