I don’t normally post my Hilton Head Monthly stuff here, but I figured I’d make an exception for this interview with Mayor Tom Peeples, who announced this year he’s not running for reelection after serving four terms, making him by far the longest-serving mayor the town has seen in its short history. I covered the guy for four years at The Island Packet, talked to him countless times by phone, usually at least a few times a week, visited his office, and maybe even saw him tipsy a time or two at various island weekend events (odds are I was equally tipsy at such events), so I even ventured a first-person lede here.
Mayor looks back, forward
(Hilton Head Monthly 4/30/2010) The single angriest moment I ever witnessed from Mayor Tom Peeples during four years covering the town happened in a meeting on the contentious debate over limiting the airport’s future runway length in 2007 The meeting drew one of the largest crowds in town history into a standing-room-only council chambers as the public both for and against expansion gathered.
The debate wore on, the crowd grew restive and some skeptics shot jeers and boos at council members on the dais. With a sharp whack of the gavel, Peeples brought the room to silence, lifted his voice to its full-bodied boom and told the crowd they could either quiet down or get out. About half the room picked up and left.
The single most emotional moment I witnessed out of Peeples also came at the same meeting, a few minutes later. With the public comment portion of the hearing closed, council members were left to state their positions on the measure that would prevent the airport from expanding the runway without first getting town permission. As Peeples explained that the town was taking the controversial measure because it defended the core ideals of the island’s founders, his voice began to crack and waver, and it appeared, to those in the audience at least, that a few tears lined his eyes.
“It guarantees that you, the citizens of Hilton Head Island, can come to a public process just like this if there is a need to discuss lengthening the runway,” Peeples told the crowd. “Obviously the fact that so many people are here must (mean) that’s a good idea.”
That broad swing of emotions — transforming from forceful arbiter to spokesman for personal passion — is indicative of the balance Peeples struck over his 15 years as town mayor. Never too much a dyed-in-the-wool politician, Peeples positioned himself as a pragmatist and consensus builder, but wasn’t afraid to let people know when something went against what he saw as the values of Hilton Head that first drew him to the island and local politics many years ago.
Peeples made a surprise announcement in April that he won’t run for reelection this November after serving four terms. It opens up room for an exciting election season, and one that will usher in a new era of leadership for the town that has known the same mayor for more than half its lifetime.
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