Camden mayor loses in fuss over recreation center plan

tflach@thestate.comNovember 8, 2012 

Tony Scully camden mayor 2012

— Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham is headed for an involuntary political hiatus after falling victim to a split in the Kershaw County community over a plan to use meal tax money to build a downtown sports complex.

Graham lost a re-election bid in Tuesday’s election, putting opponents in place to cancel a proposal he supported once they take charge Dec. 1.

The message to scrap the complex was reinforced by the triumph of critics in an accompanying advisory referendum on the project.

“That was the defining issue,” Graham said Wednesday. “It divided the community.”

The outcome of the ballot stands to make a legal challenge to the project moot.

Even Graham agrees that cancellation of the complex is inevitable.

Incoming mayor Tony Scully plans to shelve the project quickly and shift use of meal tax revenue to promotion of the city as a center for history, arts, horse farms and antiques.

“We need to invest, not just spend it on one thing,” he said. “There are many causes that could benefit.”

Scully wants ideas from merchants and residents in developing a different plan to lure visitors.

“We’re really at the beginning of a new conversation,” he said. “I want community buy-in.”

A renovated or new community center is possible, but money for that won’t come from the meal tax, he said.

The 30-year-old Graham was the state’s youngest mayor when he was elected four years ago. “At this point, my focus will be on my family and my career,” he said. Graham operates a real estate firm.

Scully, 70, is a writer active in the local arts community who decided to take on Graham after other critics of the complex declined.

He won 1,841 to 1,750, according to unofficial results.

The recreation complex plan lost in the referendum 1,932 to 1,678.

Scully and his team also face another challenge shortly after taking office in finding a new city manager to oversee the daily operation of City Hall.

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