They may not have the voting power to kick some politicians out of office in the Myrtle Beach fall election, but a growing group of Carolina Forest residents are organizing to throw their money, muscle and organizational efforts into the race.
They will be registering voters, knocking on doors, driving voters to the poll, and donating money in droves to kick out the incumbents, says Rich Malzone, spokesman for Make Myrtle Beaches Free, Clean and Safe.
The Facebook group originally organized to oppose the city council’s beach parking scheme, which includes hourly and daily parking charges for county residents to park at historically free street-end lots.
With more than 5,700 members, including a recent spike of 1,500 new ones members who joined after the Father’s Day weekend shootings, the group’s focus has expanded to include crime in the downtown tourism area.
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With the two key issues combined, Malzone says it’s time to flex their political muscle.
They are determining how many in their group already are Myrtle Beach voters, encouraging more city residents to join, and organizing their other members to help campaign and raise cash for the candidates they decide to endorse.
“We will work for the people we decide are in our best interest, and at this point, all four of the incumbents are not on that list,” Malzone said.
Mayor John Rhodes is up for reelection in November, as are Councilmen Wayne Gray, Mike Lowder and Randal Wallace.
“I really don’t have any comment, I really don’t have anything to say about that organization’s intent to get involved in Myrtle Beach city elections,” Gray said.
Rhodes and Lowder did not return a call for comment on the group’s political intentions.
Wallace conceded that the group already is organizing against him, but says he welcomes their involvement in the process.
“It’s the American system,” Wallace said.
Wallace said the parking vote was the toughest he’s had to make as a councilman, but that forcing county residents to pay daily at the street-ends has accomplished its goal.
“We tried to manage the parking so people would go elsewhere downtown, and these folks are not happy about it, about the fees pushing them downtown,” Wallace said.
Wallace said the parking fees have had a “dramatic effect” in reducing the numbers of people parking in the Golden Mile area.
“They have a right to peace and tranquility where they live as well,” Wallace said.
“I think what they are going to find from every candidate they run in to, is some candidates can promise them the world. Or, candidates will have three neighborhoods where every single, solitary person votes,” Wallace said of the Golden Mile, adding that those residents are now satisfied with the results.
Myrtle Beach has 33,892 registered voters, according to the Horry County Voter Registrations and Elections Department, but only a small percentage of voters cast ballots in recent city elections.
City elections are held in odd-numbered years, which means there is no additional draw for voter turnout, like a county, state or presidential election.
During the most recent mayoral election in 2013, ballots were cast by 3,560 voters. Rhodes won with 2,355 votes.
However, 9,553 votes were cast in the 2013 city council elections. In 2015, that number dipped to 8,899 votes cast for council candidates.
Malzone says those kinds of voter registration numbers can impact an election, but only if their group can motivate turnout through aggressive campaigning.
“They’ve got the Golden Mile tied down, but there are a lot more people in Myrtle Beach than just on the Golden Mile,” Malzone said.