Under Riley’s leadership, Charleston experienced significant revival and growth that brought national and international recognition. This included revitalization of its historical residential and business areas, including the rebirth of King Street, its main street.
Legislator, mayor of Charleston. Riley was born in Charleston on January 19, 1943, the son of Joseph P. Riley, Sr., and Helen Schachte. He graduated from Bishop England High School in Charleston in 1960. He received his undergraduate degree in political science from the Citadel in 1964 and his law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1967. On August 20, 1966, he married Charlotte Douglas deLoach. They have two sons.
Riley was first elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1968. He served three terms as a legislator and earned a reputation as a reformer. He also served as a member of the State Reorganization Commission.
In 1975 Riley was elected mayor of Charleston. After continuous reelections, in 2002 he was serving his seventh term as mayor. In 1994 he was a Democratic candidate for governor, but he was narrowly defeated in the Democratic Party runoff primary.
Under Riley’s leadership, Charleston experienced significant revival and growth that brought national and international recognition. This included revitalization of its historical residential and business areas, including the rebirth of King Street, its main street. The city also renovated Hampton Park and developed new parks and recreational attractions, including a waterfront park on the Cooper River, the Charleston Maritime Center, the South Carolina Aquarium, and the Joseph P. Riley, Jr., Baseball Stadium. A major tennis facility seating approximately ten thousand spectators was built on Daniel Island, and the Women’s Family Circle Tennis tournament relocated from Hilton Head to Charleston.
During the Riley administration Charleston also experienced a cultural renaissance through the initiation of several arts festivals. These included the internationally acclaimed Spoleto Festival USA, Piccolo Spoleto, and the MOJA African American Arts Festival. With the revitalization of the historic district and the development of these new facilities and events, Charleston has become one of the top tourist destinations in the United States.
The Riley administration also significantly improved race relations in the city through a variety of programs. Riley was a leader in the effort to create affordable housing in Charleston. He established the Mayors Council on Homelessness and Affordable Housing. Charleston’s scattered-site housing program received a Presidential Design Award as well as three HUD Blue Ribbon Awards for Best Practices. Other programs established include a Minor Home Repair program, the Parent Program, Home (an owner-occupied and rental rehabilitation program), and the Charleston Bank Consortium, a program designed to assist low-and moderate-income families in obtaining mortgages.
Riley served as president of the U.S. Conference on Mayors (1986–1987) and as president of the National Association of Democratic Mayors (1988–1992). He was named the 1991 Municipal Leader of the Year by American City and County. In 2000 he was awarded the first President’s Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and was the first recipient of the Urban Land Institute J. C. Nichols Prize for Visionary Urban Development.