Mayor Stephen J. Wukela filed to seek a second term as Mayor of the City of Florence last Tuesday. Speaking afterwards to reporters at his office, Wukela remarked “I came to office at a time of historic struggle and change. In spite of the numerous obstacles, both political and economic during my first term, we have, nevertheless, accomplished a great deal.”
Wukela went on that, “When I came to office the City of Florence, particularly the North side, was plagued by abandoned property and vicious gang crime. In my first three years, we have hired 15 new police officers and organized a community action team, which participates in community policing in which the officers work as diligently to divert young people from crime as they do to enforce the law.”
The Mayor remarked that his first budget invested $700,000 in improvements in Levy Park in East Florence, and was followed by the construction of a $6,000,000 tennis facility.
“As a result, we have seen a 33% decrease in juvenile arrests since I took office,” he said.
Wukela also pointed to success in dealing with abandoned housing; including 85 houses demolished and 453 lots cleared during his three years as Mayor.
He went on to say that “This method of depriving gangs of the havens of abandoned property, while increasing law enforcement, and at the same time, diverting young people from criminal activity and into productive activity has had great success and will continue to do so.”
In that same vein, Wukela urged the development of a new City basketball center in North Florence that has been advocated recently by Council member, Teresa Myers Ervin.
Wukela further trumpeted his administration’s success in economic development, both downtown and county-wide, including the recruitment of a $150,000,000 Johnson Controls plant, hiring 250 workers. The plant, a battery recycling facility, is located in proximity to the Pee Dee River and the Mayor, along with members of the Sierra Club, Coastal Conservation League and others, were able to negotiate with Johnson Controls; persuading them to build a facility that would have zero impact on the Pee Dee River and significantly lower emissions than similar type plants, while bringing a significant number of jobs to the Pee Dee.
The Mayor noted this success would not be possible without investments in infrastructure, including the City’s construction of a $120,000,000 wastewater treatment facility, as well as the construction of the first new fire station in 30 years.
The Mayor went on to argue that investment in infrastructure includes investment in downtown; including the construction of a $35,000,000 Performing Arts Center, along with a $12 million museum and $6 middle hotel and restaurant soon to be underway downtown.
The Mayor noted that as the quality of life in the City of Florence continues to improve, Florence becomes more attractive to industry. The Mayor pointed to the recent passage of property maintenance codes and facade improvement grants for properties downtown, as evidence of continued progress in that area.
Finally the Mayor noted that under his tenure historic investments have been made on the north side of town. He pointed to scheduled drainage and resurfacing repairs to Oakland Avenue as well as the $5,500,000 investment in the housing project, McGowan Commons, off of Oakland Avenue.
“These accomplishments have taken place in an environment of increasingly angry and increasingly empty rhetoric by my opponents,” the Mayor said. “These voices would rather quarrel than act, as they have for decades; allowing the problems of crime, poverty, and disparity to persist. That old era is ending. The new generation believes in an urgent pragmatism that demands results over rhetoric. Simply, there is more work to be done and I want to finish the job.”