Charleston, South Carolina, elects its first Republican mayor since Reconstruction Era

William Cogswell, formerly a Republican state lawmaker, defeated incumbent Democrat John Tecklenburg by about 2 percentage points in Tuesday’s runoff.

Pedestrians walk by City Hall and St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2014.Bruce Smith / AP file

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The historic South Carolina city of Charleston has elected its first Republican mayor since the Reconstruction Era.

William Cogswell, formerly a Republican state lawmaker, defeated incumbent Democratic Mayor John Tecklenburg by about 2 percentage points in Tuesday’s runoff, according to the South Carolina Election Commission. Results posted online by the commission showed a 569-vote margin separating the the two candidates.

Cogswell, 48, had secured the most votes in the Nov. 7 general election but not a majority, meaning that he and Tecklenburg headed to Tuesday’s runoff.

Charleston’s municipal elections are technically nonpartisan. But Tecklenburg is a well-known figure in the state’s Democratic politics, endorsing Joe Biden in South Carolina’s pivotal 2020 presidential primary.

Cogswell, who served three terms as a Republican in the state House and describes himself as a moderate, earned endorsements from others within South Carolina’s GOP political circles, including Sen Tim Scott.

Charleston last elected a Republican mayor in the 1870s, according to historical records from the city and other municipal areas. Republicans including state GOP Chairman Drew McKissick and U.S. Rep. Russell Fry, who served in the state House with Cogswell, celebrated the GOP win in social media posts and statements.

“We can confidently say that I’m going to be the next mayor,” Cogswell said Tuesday night, as final results came in. “The people have spoken, and we’re ready for a new direction ... a new direction that puts labels aside, so that we can find pragmatic solutions to our problems.”

In a concession speech Tuesday night, Teckleburg called his eight years as mayor “the honor of my life” and asked his supporters to rally around the new mayor.

“I’d like to congratulate our new Mayor-Elect William Cogswell ... and I’d like to ask each and every Charlestonian, everybody out there, to give him your support,” Tecklenburg said. “When Mayor Cogswell succeeds, Charleston succeeds, and that’s something we’re all in favor of.”

The city of Charleston has become the second reliably blue area in South Carolina — where Republicans dominate congressional and statewide politics — to choose a Republican mayor in recent years. In 2021, Daniel Rickenmann, a longtime city council member backed by Republicans, was chosen as the mayor of South Carolina’s capital city of Columbia.