Bluffton candidates debate quality of life issues in forum

Bluffton residents could soon have new leadership. There are eight people running for two open town council seats, and two running for mayor. In an open forum hosted by the Greater Bluffton Republican Club on Wednesday night, eight out of the 10 candidates came out to answer questions from the moderator and audience.

Running for council are incumbent Ted Huffman, Brendan Downey, Oliver Brown, Jim Sims, Harry Lutz, Eleanor McKinsey-Chandler, Dan Wood, and Michael Spears. Current town councilwoman Karen Lavery is not seeking reelection.

Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka is running for reelection. Sulka is challenged by Cynthia Bensch, a current Beaufort County councilwoman.

Voters head to the polls in just under two weeks, on November 3. On Wednesday, eight of the 10 candidates attended, sounding-off on their beliefs and goals, should they be elected. Those in the forum were Sulka, Bensch, Huffman, Downey, Wood, Lutz, Spears, and McKinsey-Chandler. The hot topics under discussion were quality of life issues, the controversial issues surrounding the historic district, Old Town Bluffton.

On parking problems in Old Town, all candidates are against installing meters. All but three, Sulka, Huffman, and Wood, support building a garage.

“Parking in Old Town is an issue especially at the top of everyone’s mind, as well as the noise and growth and the people that are living downtown versus you know, people that go downtown for their enjoyment and entertainment,” Greater Bluffton Republican Club President and moderator Joe Iaco said.

On nightlife noise in the historic district in the mix-use zone shared with businesses and residents, all candidates agree not to place further regulations on noise.

“I was satisfied, delightfully satisfied, and it’s good to hear that all the candidates support live music, support the arts and the community here in Bluffton,” voter Tommy Crenshaw said.

On other topics, like the $50 million plan for watershed, which could raise taxes to preserve the May River and keep it clean, Sulka and Bensch disagreed on whether enough action is being taken to keep the river clean.

“I just don’t see all that’s humanely possible being done to protect our rivers,” Bensch said.

Voters like Crenshaw support Sulka’s governance over the May.

“I’m very happy with what Lisa Sulka, the current mayor has done for Bluffton and for the May River, it’s hugely important,” he said.

On adding an additional two at-large council seats as the Bluffton population grows, all candidates say they are on board.

In the end, the Greater Bluffton Republican Club took a ‘straw vote’ of those in attendance who will say which candidates get their vote. Here is the ‘straw vote’ cast by the audience:

Lisa Sulka: 46

Cynthia Bensch: 10

Dan Wood: 37

Ted Huffman: 33

Michael Spears: 17

Harry Lutz: 16

Brendan Downey: 6

Oliver Brown: 2

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