Friday, November 20, 2009

Myrtle Beach Goes to the Polls

And voters show some good judgment for a change

moredockmug The motorcycles will not be roaring in Myrtle Beach again any time soon. In an ugly off-year municipal election that was largely a referendum on the Grand Strand's traditional motorcycle rallies, voters sent the bikers a clear message that they are not welcome.

The election was also a referendum on a controversial former mayor and voters have sent him a message, as well.

In a state famous for its dysfunctional politics (and about to become more famous when the General Assembly impeaches Gov. Mark Sanford in a few months) Myrtle Beach has enjoyed the reputation as being its most dysfunctional city. Yes, there are municipalities where officials are more corrupt, eccentric or just plain stupid. But Myrtle Beach is one of the largest cities – and surely the most famous – in our state. People in Europe, Canada and Ohio, who never heard of Greenville or Columbia and think Charleston is in West Virginia, these folks by the millions have “Myrtle Beach” scrawled boldly on some page of their calendars and dream giddily of the day when they will load up the SUV or board a jet for the Carolina coast.

Yes, Myrtle Beach is South Carolina's gateway to the world, the destination for 14 million golfers, snow birds, sunbathers, spring breakers, country music fans and pole dance connoisseurs. And some of those tourists have been motorcyclists – hundreds of thousands of them – arriving in two enormous rallies each May. Their numbers, the sounds of their machines and their generally rowdy behavior have become such a problem in recent years that local residents demanded something be done. Last year, Myrtle Beach City Council took action with a series of ordinances – including the state's only helmet law – designed to throw cold water on the biker parties. And it worked. This past May the bikers stayed away in droves, leaving some hotels, restaurants, bars ands strip clubs hurting.

In a town where everything is taken to excess, there was a backlash and it was hard and mean. Many local business people, as well as hardcore bikers, banded together to fight City Hall. Business Owners Organized to Support Tourism (BOOST, to its friends) sued Myrtle Beach over the helmet law and alleged nefarious and unholy alliances between city council and Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. There were charges of slander and libel. Lawyers held news conferences and posted nasty letters on the web.

Into this storm of acrimony strode a familiar figure, one who surely felt right at home in such an atmosphere. Mark McBride was first elected mayor of Myrtle Beach in 1997, defeating a 12-year incumbent in a campaign that set new standards for sleaze and duplicity in local politics.  (See my account of that campaign from my 2003 book, Banana Republic – A Year in the Heart of Myrtle Beach

In eight divisive, vitriolic years as major domo, McBride got into fisticuffs with a council member in an executive session, came up on the short end of dozens of 6-1 votes, and never accomplished a single important reform or initiative. In those years he established himself as a family-values crusader and gay basher, willing to use thinly veiled racist rhetoric and to stand on both sides of several critical issues as he felt the political winds change.

One of those changes was his attitude toward motorcycle rallies. He even called for banning  them altogether in 2005, when anger against the spring rallies was at fever pitch. That year he famously made the statement that he felt at times like “nudging” a motorcycle with his car. The remark flashed through the biker community via the internet, causing some 80 bikers to show up at a city council meeting in what they called a Ride Against McBride. A few weeks later the voters replaced McBride with the more seasoned and stable John Rhodes. It was under Rhodes' leadership that city council finally took action to tame the motorcycle rallies.

All the while, McBride had been waiting in the wings, and with the support of BOOST he jumped into the recent fray to regain his old office and make Myrtle Beach safe for bikers again. Nobody commented on the fact that only four years earlier he had called for shutting down the biker rallies. The bikers needed a candidate and he needed a constituency. It was classic Mark McBride.

In the end, Myrtle Beach voters decided they had seen enough of McBride and motorcycle rallies. In the recent municipal election and November 17 runoff, they re-elected John Rhodes with 55 percent of the vote and rejected the BOOST city council slate. It was a good day for clean government and quiet streets.


  1. You've gotten few things wrong.

    See my post to the Palmetto Scoop blog commenting on the article about that scumbag dirty trickster Mike Green's arrest. I also have another one, a much more in-depth comment, posted to the FITSnews article on the same incident.

    One glaring error in your article -- the so-called BOOST slate for Council was not entirely rejected. Mike Lowder beat out incumbent Chuck Martino.

    Also, it should be note that Rhodes, too, flip-flopped on the bike rallies. In fact, one of the reasons he beat McBride the last time was that he affirmed that he would continue them.

    You also don't mention that McBride was outspent nearly 12 to 1, yet only lost by around 500 votes. Far from a mandate for Rhodes and his gang, I'd say.

    Much has changed since your "year in the heart of Myrtle Beach". In my opinion, Mark McBride has genuinely matured, become less stridently a "right winger", and due to his own several years having to work multiple jobs in the service industry to feed his family, has come to empathize more with those who are being victimized by City's selective tourism policies -- and by the excessive taxation the Good Old Boy Country Club Mafia that is Rhodes and Council have imposed to make up for that failed social experiment.

    To see how most people in MB who have an income level under, say, $250,000 a year -- especially those on the South End -- regard Mayor Rhodes, see my Facebook Group, "Bring Back Myrtle Beach!"

    - Boz

  2. ... meant to say "You've gotten A few things wrong."

  3. Another thing that wasn't mentioned was that only 32 % of the registered voters bothered to get off the couch and vote. Most of those that did vote were from the north end of town where the anti rally folks have a power base. Too bad the supreme court waited until after the election to bring up the helmet issue, but then MB waited until the early part Nov to file their paperwork with the courts

  4. I wouldn't expect much reasoned thinking from a bunch of inbred hillbillies. Get a grip! ...and yes I do know where Charleston is.

  5. The City of Myrtle Beach is a relatively small portion of what is thought of by the general public as "Myrtle Beach", or "the Grand Strand". It does not, as much of the general public assumes, include "North Myrtle Beach", a separate city.

    That's one of the problems where the whole rally issue is concerned. Myrtle Beach, the city, is often the tail wagging the dog where the Grand Strand is concerned. While MB was able to get some limited support for some of the initiatives aimed at curtailing rally excesses, none of the other municipalities went as far as going against state law on the issue of helmets, or outright banning rally vendors.

    In public statements regarding the authoritarian and oppressive "Take Back May" initiatives, Rhodes cynically exploited the public confusion over what area, exactly, constitutes "Myrtle Beach". Rally attendance was initially hurt by wording that was widely interpreted by bikers as meaning that all of the Grand Strand had enacted the most stringent anti-rally strictures. These deceptive communications also over-stated the positions of ABATE and other groups, imparting the mistaken impression that those organizations were, in essence, in agreement with "Take Back May".

    As exercises in pure propaganda, these communications were masterfully executed -- leading some to speculate that that John Rhodes, who is "seasoned" age-wise but hardly so in terms of political acumen, had little, if anything, to do with actually writing them. It's likely that someone at the level of the state Republican establishment -- perhaps Katon Dawson himself -- has a strong hand in that.

    Non-MB-dwelling stakeholders in the City of Myrtle Beach MUST organize and work with in-city activists to support candidates in 2011 and 2013 who are opposed to the elitist Good Old Boy Country Club Repub Mafia personified by the Rhodes regime -- both in terms of financial contributions and active volunteerism.

    Bike rallies are only part of the problem. As a life-long liberal Democrat who has lately found much common ground with even the demonized "Tea Baggers" and Beck-inspired 9/12 Project members in MB and on the Grand Strand in general, I know that local politics sometimes makes the strangest bedfellows of all.

    But here we are in bed together -- so we might as well get a little rest, to energize ourselves for the long, intense sessions of "gettin' busy" to come.

  6. Myrtle Beach has been know for major corruptuion over the years. Wait till the supreme court gets done and the state investigation into the donations is finished.
    What are they paying this paper?

  7. Two things for the idiots now running the show in MB....

    1. As a long-time visitor to the MB area to play golf, to bring my entire family once a year to vacation @ a very sizeable amount of money for my wife and I, and as one who has been talking to local real estate folks about buying a home in the MB area, count me finished. I will not come back, and will instead take my money and family elsewhere.

    2. As an adult motorcycle rider observing the vileness, the hatred, the devisivenss, and the ever so blatant discrimination displayed by the in-bred, toothless wonders now running (or is that ruining) Myrtle Beach, those of us who ride do not need your one horse town. What your voters fail to realize is that your business people are now losing a lot of money they can't replace with a week of visitors. Bikers/motorcyclists spend twice the amount in one week than do those vacationing spend in two. And that is a fact, verifiable in lost dollars.

    So, for those who made this decision, find someone else to come play golf, to bring 20 people every year to MB. This is one guy who, along with his golfing buddies, motorcycle friends, and my family will not be back.

    And for those I've contacted about buyintg property in the MB area, cancel your efforts in finding me the "right place". Because right now, MB is not the right place for this "biker".

  8. Will, I respect you, and as I said I liked some portions of Banana Republic.

    But I know that you came into it from a certain biased perspective to begin with, and I can assure you that things have changed radically in MB since 2002. And at the same time, much of what has gone wrong is what, however imperfectly, McBride was opposing the majority on so vehemently in Cousel on when you were in town.

    Neither you nor your/our old progressive activist friends in Columbia (say hi to Karen, btw!), nor your well-heeled, elitist chums in Pawley's seem to know what's really on down here. Maybe you should have done more research into who the real enemies of progress are in this region --- on who is really driving down the economy and turning MB into even more of a Banana Republic than it has ever been -- before opining on our elections.

    How can you oppose the Katon Dawson crowd on one hand and support their fellow "running dogs" on the other?

    In the words of Sinéad O'Connor, "Fight the real enemy!"