Beaufort, S.C. Mayor Keyserling trying to keep his charming city on track for residents and tourists alike

Beaufort, S.C. Mayor Keyserling trying to keep his charming city on track for residents and tourists alike

Post ID: 95 | POSTED ON: Sep 20, 2011

The grandson of a Lithuanian immigrant escaping tsarist Russia and the son of a doctor and a mother who became the first woman elected from Beaufort to the state legislature, William “Bill” Keyserling was born in the city he now runs on June 29, 1948. Beaufort, South Carolina, Mayor Keyserling is a graduate of Brandeis University (located in Waltham, near Boston, Massachusetts) and received his master’s degree from Boston University. Later, Keyserling spent about 16 years working on and around Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. He also worked on various political campaigns including that of U.S. Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, a Democrat who spent 36 years as a South Carolina senator and unsuccessfully ran for U.S. president in 1984. Keyserling has also served in South Carolina’s state House; served four years on the Beaufort City Council and ran for mayor of the city in 2004, but lost. In 2008, however, he came back and was elected as Beaufort’s mayor, or as he likes to be called, “Mayor Billy.” He also co-authored a children’s (and maybe adults’, too) book with an 8-year-old on bringing communities together called “The Pink Dolphin.”

Why did you decide to enter politics?

We are all born with demons and our principal mission on this earth is to manage them. Some abuse drugs, alcohol, gambling and sex. Others curl up and bury themselves in a long engaging novel. Yet others wrap themselves in the flock of formal religion. All we are seeking is a safe landing. My opiates are food and public service. Accordingly, diets and active participation in community and public service have played a huge role in my life.

Do you still like politics?

While I hate politics, as such, with name calling, partisanship and deep division and (the) large amount of money it takes to run for public office, I love government and try to encourage young people that if they become involved, government can again become the friend and not the enemy of the people.

I believe that political labels are where lazy minds hide. As mayor, I believe my principal responsibility is to lead an inclusive and transparent civil conversation about the future of the best hometown in the world.

How did you like spending some years working with former Democratic South Carolina Sen. Fritz Hollings, including time as his campaign manager?

For the many of us who had a very high respect and admiration for Fritz, I am not sure love is an appropriate word. He had an unmatched work ethic, a keen desire to understand, a high respect for civil discourse and, as a former trial lawyer, loved the adversary proceeding. (Senators) were on the floor (to) participate in serious debate, talk about ideas, principles and mutual respect. It was not the recording studio for one-liners for campaign ads.

While I would not speak for him, I think one of his largest disappointments, when he was running for the presidency (in 1984) and I was his campaign manager, was that a half dozen pundits could influence his chances of winning more than he could.

There is no doubt I learned more about public service and politics from Fritz Hollings than any other one person.

You served two terms in the South Carolina state House. Which do you prefer – serving as a representative or being Beaufort’s mayor?

I hated serving in the South Carolina House, which is why I did not run for a third term. I did not have the patience to “wait my turn,” time was not used very efficiently, the level of debate was not very high and I quickly became cynical. Furthermore, most decisions were resolved by leadership before they ever reached the House floor. So when taking an opposing point of view, my colleagues would not even give me the courtesy of listening.

Rather than run for a third term, most likely unopposed, I decided to step aside for someone who would be more enthusiastic and less cynical.

After serving on Beaufort’s City Council, you ran for mayor in 2004 and lost by 97 votes. Why do you think you lost?

Because 49 of my supporters voted for the opponent.

And why do you think you won four years later?

I ran against two very competent city council members, but was able to win largely because I was highly motivated and saw huge opportunities for the city lying ahead.

My principal message was that a wonderful historical little city had no vision for its future on the eve of its tercentennial (300th anniversary). And that we needed transparency (and) a mayor who was in touch with the people and could work productively with the city council.

Are you under term limits in Beaufort?

None other than those imposed by the voters on election day.

How is tourism?

Tourism is fine, but we can always have more visitors. That being said, I believe we should resist becoming like other adjacent historic cities which have become overrun by tourists thereby challenging or compromising the quality of life of residents.

Tourism is good business, but it does not provide the kinds of jobs appropriate for young people who become educated and want to start a career so they can live in their hometown. Accordingly, we must diversify our economic development initiatives to ensure a diverse economy for those who live here.

You’re Jewish. A silly question, but probably some people don’t think of a Jewish man being mayor of a Southern city for whatever reason. Has your religion ever been an obstacle to your election hopes or governing?

Never been a consideration or concern. Most likely because of my family’s long history of service to community.

And, finally, how do you pronounce Beaufort for us Northerners? Boo-ford, Beau-fort or…?

Bewfort. There is a town in North Carolina with the same name, but it’s pronounced Bofort.

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