Former Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. is widely considered one of the most visionary and highly effective governmental leaders in America.
First elected Mayor in December 1975, Mayor Riley served an unprecedented nine terms. Under his leadership, Charleston increased its commitment to racial harmony and progress, achieved a substantial decrease in crime, experienced a remarkable revitalization of its historic downtown business district, saw the creation and growth of Spoleto Festival U.S. A., built the beautiful Waterfront Park, developed nationally-acclaimed affordable housing, and experienced unprecedented growth in Charleston’s size and population. Mayor Riley led a city government with an impressive record of innovation in public safety, housing, arts and culture, children’s issues, the creation of park and other public spaces, and economic revitalization and development. The City of Charleston is recognized as one of the most livable and progressive cities in the United States.
Riley has held numerous national leadership positions and received many awards and distinctions. He served as President of the U. S. Conference of Mayors 1986-87 and currently serves on the USCM’s Executive Committee. He served as Chairman of the Cities Task Force of the Southern Growth Policies Board and served as President of the National Association of Democratic Mayors (1988-92). He was given the Outstanding Mayors Award by the National Urban Coalition, the Distinguished Citizen Award by the National Association of Realtors and named the 1991 Municipal Leader of the Year by American City & County. Riley has received the Order of the Palmetto, been named South Carolinian of the Year, and given the 1982 Verner Award by the South Carolina Arts Commission for outstanding contributions to the arts. Mayor Riley received many commendations for his leadership of the Charleston community before, during and after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. In June 2000, he was awarded the first President's Award from the U. S. Conference of Mayors for outstanding leadership. In July 2000, he was honored as the first recipient of the Urban Land Institute J. C. Nichols Prize for Visionary Urban Development. In February, 2002, he was given the Keystone Award, given for exemplary leadership to those who use architecture to transform their communities, by the American Architectural Foundation. He received the Scenic America Lifetime Achievement Award in1999, received the first U. S. Conference of Mayors President’s Award in 2000, was named one of the 2004 Giants of Design by House Beautiful magazine,was awarded the ASLA 2004 Olmstead Medal and received the South Carolina Governor’s Award in the Humanities in 2005.
Riley’s vision, leadership, and impressive list of accomplishments have brought him and the City of Charleston national and international acclaim. Washington Post columnist David S. Broder said, “...what has been achieved here under his leadership is extraordinary,” adding “...it is mainly the way that Charleston treats the social problems that all old cities share that has made Riley’s long reign so remarkable.” Conde Nast, in its August, 1997 issue, said, “...of America’s colonial cities, Charleston is the most dramatically reborn.” The article further noted, “Charleston’s revival is a story of shared pride and work...” An issue of Newsweek named Mayor Riley one of the twenty-five most dynamic mayors in America. The City of Charleston has also been named an All-America City.
Through his lifetime of experience in Charleston, former Mayor Riley has become a leading expert on urban design and livability issues and is a frequent speaker across the country on these topics. He was a founder of the Mayors' Institute for City Design (MICD) and has provided critical urban design support to mayors across America. Mayor Riley received the 1994 Thomas Jefferson Award from the American Institute of Architects for Public Architecture for “his exceptional leadership and ‘Jeffersonian’ vision in redefining the promise and, ultimately the future, of our nation and its cities.” In 1997, he received the Seaside Prize from the Seaside Institute for exemplary leadership and contributions to high-quality urban design throughout America. The American Society of Landscape Architects named him an Honorary Member for his leadership and vision.
Joseph P. Riley, Jr. was born in Charleston in 1943. He graduated from Bishop England High School, The Citadel (1964) and the University of South Carolina School of Law (1967). In 1968, Riley was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, where he served for six years. He and his wife Charlotte have two sons, Joe and Bratton.