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Mayors and their earthmovers

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What is it about Charleston-area mayors and their life-size Tonka toys?

For years, we’ve seen them step up into the cab to do demolition on some structure whose time has come — the most recent example being Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg taking it to the old Piggly Wiggly building in West Ashley.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey began the demolition of the Shipwatch Square shopping center near Rivers Avenue on Sept. 13, 2011. (Photo/File)

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley exits a track hoe after using it to demolish a canopy at the old Gaillard Auditorium on Aug. 21, 2012. (Photo/Leslie Burden)

While Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg seems completely comfortable behind the keyboard of a piano, he also seemed to relish this moment at the controls of an excavator on May 29 in West Ashley. (Photo/Patrick Hoff)

We reached back into our photographic archives, and we also found examples from former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey.

So is this a phenomenon, or what?

You might think it’s a publicity stunt, a photo op. A few pics for the paper, social media or B-roll for local television. Maybe after the first mayor did it, the others thought, “I should tear something down, too.”

But we’re certain there’s a deeper psychology at work.

If you’ve ever been to a city council meeting or a planning commission meeting or a transportation committee meeting or any other number of important but occasionally soul-sucking meetings that public officials are required to attend, you’ll understand what we mean.

Democracy is difficult.

By necessity, it’s slow and sometimes frustrating. Even when you get it right, you don’t make everyone happy, and you definitely don’t always get it right when you’re an elected official (just like when you’re a non-elected regular person). That’s why we continually change laws — and, sometimes, political leaders.

It’s much easier to be a monarch than a mayor. Mayoral leadership requires a person who can navigate the bits and pieces of our bureaucracy and competing interests, a frequently thankless job. And in the end, there’s only so much mayors can do to make most of the people happy most of the time.

So once something needs to be torn down, it’s probably quite cathartic to jump into the cab and start the process in a way that an “Aye” vote just can’t match. Raking the bucket of a track hoe down the aging facade of a post-modern architectural eyesore is something a mayor can point to and say, “I did that. Yeah.”

It’s tangible. It’s visceral. And while a fist-pump afterward is not required, we’re sure they’re doing it in their little mayoral hearts, if not in public.

Reach Andy Owens at 843-849-3142.

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