FLORENCE, S.C. — Florence City Councilman George D. Jebaily became the first candidate to replace outgoing Mayor Stephen J. Wukela on Friday afternoon.
Jebaily, a member of the city council since 2014, announced his candidacy in the Renaissance Dining Courtyard behind Wholly Smokin’ and the Birds Nest on South Dargan Street.
Wukela announced Thursday, Oct. 10, at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon that he will not seek a fourth term as mayor. He has served as Florence’s mayor since 2008 when he was elected over Frank Willis.
“Today, I announce my candidacy for the office of mayor of the great city of Florence,” Jebaily said. “I am proud of the tremendous progress we have made to our downtown, to key neighborhoods, in our parks and through the creation of new recreation facilities, leading to a better quality of life for all the citizens in our community.”
As mayor, Jebaily said, he plans to focus on economic development, expanding the downtown redevelopment, neighborhood renewal, supporting educational opportunities through partnerships, and addressing the lack of funding for city infrastructure like roads and storm water drainage.
Jebaily said earlier Friday that he made the decision to run because of his passion for the community and the outpouring from the community to continue the work of the city council and staff to see the progress made in the city and to continue to build on the work of those who came before.
When rumors began that Wukela was not going to seek a second term, Jebaily said, several community members approached him about running for mayor.
“It’s very, very humbling,” Jebaily said earlier Friday. “It’s — I guess — an acknowledgment of the 25 years that I’ve been involved as a community leader, servant, worker to try and more our community forward.”
He said it was nice hear that but also said it was a responsibility to be entrusted by the community to maintain the well-being and future of the community.
Jebaily said that he felt he and the community owed a debt of gratitude to Wukela and his family for making the sacrifice to serve the public.
He said Wukela’s leadership during his time on the council has been one of collaborations and partnerships. He added that Wukela also listened to City Manager Drew Griffin and the rest of the city staff.
Jebaily said the city staff was incredible and did an amazing job of presenting information to the city council in way that it could act.
The city, he added, must recognize that it is a city-manager form of government and not a strong-mayor form of government. Jebaily said it was the job of the council to set policy and the job of Griffin to enact those policies.
“You just don’t want to get in the way and muck up the works,” Jebaily said.
Jebaily began work on redeveloping the city’s downtown in 1995. From 2002 to 2009, he served on the master plan update committee of the Florence Downtown Development Corporation. That plan was adopted by the city council in 2011.
He also has served as chairman of the South Carolina Pecan Festival Committee.
Jebaily was elected to an at-large seat on the city council in 2014 over Glynn Willis. Willis later ran for and was elected to another at-large city council seat in 2016.
If Jebaily is elected mayor, a special election will be needed to fill the remaining two years of his term as an at-large member of the council.
Jebaily is a 1974 graduate of West Florence High School, a 1978 graduate of the University of South Carolina — he majored in international studies — and a 1982 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law.
He practiced law in Columbia for two years before returning to Florence to practice at the Jebaily Law Firm. The firm was founded by his brother, Ronald, in 1969.
George Jebaily is the managing partner of the firm and also serves as the lead attorney for the personal injury team.
“I feel like the experience that I have is going to serve me well as mayor,” Jebaily said.