By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
On a brilliant, warm February afternoon, I was holed up in a darkened booth in an Irish-themed pub talking local politics. Not exactly James Joyce’s “Ivy Day in the Committee Room,” but a reasonable Columbia facsimile.
Jack Van Loan was holding court at his “office” in a booth at Delaney’s in Five Points — files and organizer on the table before him next to his coffee, his briefcase opened on a nearby bench. From such locations Jack makes and takes his multiple calls getting ready for the big St. Patrick’s Day event March 14, and talks Five Points politics.
Last year, he was blessing Belinda Gergel for the 3rd district City Council contest that she eventually won. This time, he was pushing someone for mayor.
It was Steve Benjamin, whom I’ve known for years; we endorsed him for state attorney general in 2002. But Jack wanted to “introduce” him as his candidate for mayor, and I wanted to hear what Jack — a force in the Five Points Association since 1991 — had to say about him.
Jack says the necessary ingredient in leadership is courage — something he knows about, having been imprisoned at the “Hanoi Hilton” with John McCain. He says Steve Benjamin’s got it. “He’s not a Goldwater conservative,” which would be more to Jack’s liking. But “This is my guy.” If he runs.
Mr. Benjamin says he’ll decide whether to take on Mayor Bob Coble “in the next couple of months.” No later, because he will need the full year running up to the April 2010 election. Jack agrees: “A year’s nothing.”
What this would mean is that Bob Coble would face something other than the “usual suspects” opposition that has tended to characterize his re-elections. Last election, Kevin Fisher mounted the most serious race in a while, but that was weak compared to what Steve Benjamin would do. He wouldn’t just be a focal point for the discontented. He has the name, connections and credibility to challenge the mayor in the very heart of his political support.
And now, confidence in Columbia’s leadership is at a low ebb. City finances are an inexcusable mess; the police department is reeling from a string of problems. The city manager has quit, after the council couldn’t get its act together to evaluate him. The seven elected political leaders seem incapable of summoning the will to cope with anything, from homelessness to closing a deal to provide more parking spaces in Five Points (a very sore point for Jack).
“I have a great relationship with Bob Coble,” says Mr. Benjamin. “On my worst day, he’s been a great acquaintance.” Further, he says he doesn’t doubt the mayor’s dedication to the city.
So, as he says the mayor himself asked him, why consider running against his friend Bob? While he still hasn’t made up his mind, “reasons become clearer every day — every morning after I read your paper.”
If he runs, the campaign will be positive, and “aspirational.” He wants to grow old here. He wants his children to raise their children here.
To hear his wife or law partners tell it, he’s already involved in “too many things:” Among them, he’s chairman-elect of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, and vice chairman of the Columbia City Center Partnership. I don’t find it unusual to run into him twice in the same day, at unrelated community events.
“I think we lack a clear and cohesive vision about where this city needs to go,” he says. More than that, he understands that the city lacks the means for translating any such vision into effective action.
In other words, he advocates replacing Columbia’s unaccountable, failed council-manager government with a strong-mayor system. A full-time mayor with responsibility for, rather than politically diffused detachment from, the day-to-day executive functions of the government is necessary “for a city trying to make the next leap — from good to great,” he says. “Some say it’s a third rail,” but “it’s hard to look somebody in the eye and say I want to run the city, and then say you don’t really want to run the city.” Under the current setup, not a lot of people would want the job — at least, not a lot of people a reasonable person would want to want the job.
He mentions several important issues the city has yet to cope with — transportation, clean air and water. But it is on homelessness that he draws a sharp contrast. He says the proposal of the Midlands Housing Alliance to establish a multi-purpose center to fight homelessness at the Salvation Army site “is sound, is 95 percent of the way towards being funded, looks like a certainty and certainly fills a void.” As a former resident of the Elmwood neighborhood, he understands concerns, but believes “some strong, good neighborhood agreements” could reassure folks such a center would not be a detriment.
Mr. Benjamin is a veteran of the last failed effort to establish such a center, which was undermined by the City Council. That experience “put us on notice that if something’s going to happen, it may have to happen in spite of elected city leadership.” Various stakeholders, from business leaders to service providers, came together in the Housing Alliance to provide that missing direction, and now Mr. Benjamin says the city should step up and do its part, which would include providing operating funds.
“I don’t get the impression that the city leadership thinks it’s a problem,” says Jack Van Loan. Referring to Cathy Novinger of the Housing Alliance, he adds, “That gal would have made a damned fine general officer in the Air Force. She can make a decision without stuttering.”
It’s a quality that the former fighter pilot values, and one he suggests that he sees in Steve Benjamin.
And while it’s far too soon to say wh
o should win, if Mr. Benjamin gets into the race, Columbia will have its clearest chance in a long while to pick a new direction.
For links and more, please go to thestate.com/bradsblog/.
It seems to me that more important than changing our form of municipal government is changing our annexation statutes so that local governmental entities can represent entire areas of common economic interest.
I get the impression that Cromartie holds a great deal of sway over the black community in Columbia and without his endorsement and active support it will be very difficult if not impossible to turn that segment of the electorate against to incumbent.
Why doesn’t JVL simply channel his lobbying efforts towards restructing rather than pushing a candidate? If he doesn’t like the performance of Mayor Bob and doesn’t like the structure, then let’s have him put those cards on the table. Sounds like the general is stuttering.
As Scooby Doo would say: “Rut-Row”.
There is a possible conflict of interest with Steve Benjamin as incoming president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and if he serves as the next mayor of Columbia. Lexington is experiencing possible conflicts of interest with Randy Halfacre as mayor and head of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce.
However, I don’t have a horse or any interest in any mayoral race. I cannot even vote for Chapin’s mayor, Stan Shealy, since I don’t live in a city or town.
Calling Lee Muller. Calling Lee Muller.
Check out “Sunlit Uplands” web site…right below the Rush Limbaugh videos.
Someone has dropped the ball on this?
Get your D.C. pants on Lee.
We have been swindled, just like you said.
Sunlit Uplands is boasting about Rush’s “great speech”…yes, a site for real Americans.
The GOP leadership is peeing in their collecive pants about the vacuum sucking them even farther to the right.
Randy, you are totally missing the point.
Rush Limbaugh is the just the most vocal and visible loud mouth — who doesn’t now, and won’t ever wear a pair of hallucinatory glasses about this whole mess.
Obama’s splurge-fest with imaginary money is going to devalue our national currency to the point that we are at the mercy of China, etc. Is that comforting to you?!?
It is the “Investigating Obama” part I was trying to get somebody/anybody to care about! Why did we not hear more about this in the MSM?!?
The first and only I ever heard about it, until last week, was last summer from Lee Muller talking about it on this blog. You are getting bogged down in politics — when Obama is looking more like a national security threat than a politician.
THAT’S THE POINT!
ARCA, Rush, Mr. prescription drugs, doesn’t hallucinate?
Let’s look at Rush’s comment about wanting Obama to fail as “Concerned Americans.” If he does fail, our economy collapses. Unemployment, foreclosures, the number of homeless, and crime will skyrocket. We’ll be compromised in terms of national security, and our economy based society will be be in upheaval. As Sanford stated, only an idiot would hope for this outcome.
Perhaps you too hope that Rush, Pain, and Jindal will come to our rescue with tax cuts and deregulation? We had MASSIVE tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 along with years of deregulation and the economy cratered. Clinton RAISED taxes on the wealthy early in his terms and the economy boomed.
“Sell crazy somewhere else, we’re all stocked up here” (with Lee).
Here is the link:
Maybe my search engines got entangled…
I’m not in anybody’s governmental ‘come to our rescue’ camp. I’m in the “do nothing” camp.
Doing nothing beats digging ourselves in deeper. I’ll take in a homeless person. I’ll volunteer at the crumbling school in Dillon [they are on their own at the Taj Ma Hal district headquarters around this state].
It’s time for common sense, which necessitates leaving the government out of it.
So get rid of a professional for a political hack? Great idea! Let the cronyism, corruption and nepotism begin!
I’m sure the FBI will aprreciate the inccreased case load in this economy
It’s worse than that Tim!
It all started going downhill with Obama doing his first presidential interview on Allah TV. Next to a bouquet of yellow flowers…like a good yellow-bellied Islamo-peacenik.
Hey, Randy, answer the man’s question and quit throwing stones at Republicans to cover your know-nothing-about-you-newborn-messiah tracks.
That question was: “Obama’s splurge-fest with imaginary money is going to devalue our national currency to the point that we are at the mercy of China, etc. Is that comforting to you?!?”
Explain how spending your great-grandchildren’s income on high-speed rail from LA to Vegas is going to help Ty’Sheoma in Dillon, Randy.
What part of Connecticut do you want the Iranians to drop their first nuke on?
So get rid of a professional for a political hack? Great idea! Let the cronyism, corruption and nepotism begin!
LOL, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of this clip from about 0:15 – 1:05.
ARCA, put down the bottle, son, and go on to bed.
3 libs-3 normals. Safe enough for now.
After all, tomorrow is another day.
Explain how spending your great-grandchildren’s income on high-speed rail from LA to Vegas is going to help Ty’Sheoma in Dillon, Randy. -Weldon
Stimulus is headed to Dillon as well as other parts of the country. To build the new school, construction WORKERS have to be hired. These WORKERS spend money and pay taxes. Supplies are purchased. In turn the taxes and money from the purchases are funneled to others etc. – it’s how our economy works when money is flowing.
The infrastructure is essential to society AND BUSINESS. Business men and women will make use of the high speed rail. Supplies will be shipped on the high speed rail.
Our grandkids will attend these schools and ride these high speed rails. They will not only benefit from modern infrastructure, they won’t be years behind the Chinese who are investing almost a TRILLION dollars on their infrastructure NOW!
BTW, there is no earmark for a high speed rail from LV to LA – feel free to Google. Propaganda is often a lie and should be embarassing to spread it.
ORCA, don’t forget the MAJORITY of the country sent you “normals” packing the past two elections. The “libs” control our government and are cleaning up the elephant dung.
While my article maintains a journalistic separation from the principals of this story and is a report of statements of others on the matter, I believed it worthy of “pushing out” to readers
ORCA, this is a quote from your “investigatory” article. The writer explicitly admits to reporting heresay which undermines any possible ethos. In effect, your source is My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend who heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl.
No, Randy, there is no specific mention of high-speed rail from LA to Vegas in the stimulus package, but you know as well as I do that Harry Reid wanted money for that high-speed rail, and that’s why non-specific high-speed rail money is in the stimulus package.
They call that deception.
And, by the way, you still didn’t answer the man’s question.
There will be high speed rail construction all over the US including MANY red states. Your conspiracy theory about Reid is moot.
Regarding the question about China holding our mortgage, I have two points. First, where was the outrage when W and the GOP congress was spending 12B a MONTH on a single war (MORE than the stimulus) let alone spending like a drunken sailor in many other areas? Second, there is NO CHOICE. MOST economists – conservatives as well – support spending. How else will money begin to circulate?
How about Weldon VII and “Real” American try to offer an alternative? Will tax cuts actually get our economy rolling? Perhaps you think we should sit around waiting for the market to correct itself? My bet is neither of you will respond because you can’t.
Nice map, Randy. How do those 15 states shown without plans for high-speed rail fit in with your “all over the United States” description?
Here’s betting the Reid rail that the map omits ends up being the first track laid.
Next, though Bush has NOTHING to do with this discussion, even if you just can’t stop bringing him up before you get to the nuts and bolts, the war worked. There’s no guarantee Obama’s orgiastic spending spree will accomplish more than a hint at reparations before rampant inflation makes reparations moot.
I agree with Alan Keyes, Randy. Obama may well be trying to destroy the United States while Stevie Wonder plays for him.
As to an alternative, I’d suggest merely getting banks back in the business of making loans with proper provisions for preventing them from being spendthrifts, with funding for infrastructure renewal, including schools like Ty’Sheoma’s.
But you can’t just look at the stimulus separately. From what I understand, We’re looking at $1T of stimulus, a $400B appropriations bill, and a $3.6T budget bill including a $600B “downpayment” on socialized medicine. That’s $5T, with no budget in balance as far as the eye can see.
A bake sale would make more sense.
Randy, which conservative “economists” are talking about?!?
What kind of money is going to be circulating? Hyper-inflated ‘money’. Look at the price of gold. It is skyrocketing. This is an indication that no matter how glibly our president yucks it up, people voting with their money are not convinced.
Neil Cavuto has given a one-word warning: HOPELESS.
I agree with Alan Keyes, Randy. – Weldon
Rush Limbaugh has now become the leader of the Republican Party. An overweight, three times divorced, drug junkie who spews venom in his professed desire for the president to fail. We do have free speech and Rush can say what he likes no matter how idiotic. But it’s sad really when a once great political party has now been reduced to spewing phony anectdotes to support the proven failed policies of the early 2000s.
Face it Rush disciples, your guys had their way and all it got us was debt, recession, stagnant wages, misconcieved war and a government who couldn’t even get thirsty people water that were stranded in the Superdome.
But now we have a real president. A man who understands the plight of the average American. One who realizes that the only way to move our nation forward is to pay for the critical programs that will make us a better, healthier and more prosperous nation. It’s time for the rich, the folks who benefit the most from government, to pay their fair share. All the wasted lives and money from misguided wars will come to an end soon and we can redirect that money to areas that will actually benefit the country.
The greedy warmongers have had it their way for far too long. Now is the time for pragmatists and realist to control our national destiny. Let Rush and his band of lemmings have their say. But we sure as hell better not listen.
Back to the subject — Ralph asks about a potential conflict with the Chamber if Steve Benjamin runs for mayor.
No problem there. Ike McLeese told me last week that the moment Steve becomes a declared candidate, he’ll have to quit his position with the Chamber. Chamber rules.
I had called Ike to make sure I had Mr. Benjamin’s title with the Chamber right. I had said “chairman-elect,” but I couldn’t find any confirmation of that in our files or at the Chamber’s Web site. Ike said he is “chairman-elect 2010,” which means he’s two positions away from chairman. He said Cathy Novinger (also mentioned in the column, in a different context) is the current chair, and someone else will follow here, then Mr. Benjamin.
I left it as “chairman-elect” because if I had said “2010,” you’d naturally have said, “Huh?” I’d have had to explain what I just explained, and would have had to cut that much stuff out of my column to make room for it, so it wasn’t worth it — especially since, if he runs for mayor, it will be moot. The only reason to mention it in the first place was to give an example of the many ways he is currently involved in the community.
Remember when during one of the final McCain-Obama debates, Obama said he would be taking a scalpel to the federal budget to cut out any wasteful spending?
Physician, heal thyself!
I was ready to give Obama the benefit of the doubt when he took office. He has already proven to be what I feared he would be – a liar.
He has already said he will sign a budget bill full of earmarks (anywhere between 3.5 and 7 billion dollars depending on who looks at it) when he said he wouldn’t
His tax cuts for working Americans amount to a Happy Meal and a McFlurry per week while the burden he will place on future generations will be devastating for decades.
Thanks for the clarification. Maybe the Lexington Chamber of Commerce could learn something from the Columbia Chamber.
The problem with the Chamber of Commerce is that it is a good old boys club, whose members don’t criticize each other’s attempts to do business with government, because they all want a piece of the Taxpayer Pie.
When was the last time you heard of the Chamber opposing a school bond issue or some bogus project of Bob Coble’s? About the same time you heard The State editors criticizing waste and corruption.
Yeah, I thought about making that thing about the Chamber a separate post, because the contrast is so great with the Lexington situation. Maybe I will.
Meanwhile, I ran into Jack Van Loan a few minutes ago after Rotary. He says someone told him the mayor’s mad at him. He said he told the person who told him that to give the mayor his phone number…
I thought they are buddies so they should be in each other’s circle.
Does he favor replacing Mayor Bob or restructuring or both?
Thanks, Doug. Obama has broken more promises in his first two months in office than any president in the history of the United States.
The Democrats are calline ME a Rush lemming as they hurtle off the cliff.
At this point, Randy, I think he favors both — but he’s especially ticked at present elected leadership, including Mayor Bob.
He’s also unhappy with Belinda Gergel, after supporting her last year. This is about the Kenny’s redevelopment, which has so completely fallen apart. If you’ll recall, a while back I posted video from when Jack and Duncan McRae from Yesterday’s and our own James D McCallister from Loose Lucy’s came to see us about that…
Doug, share with us the way out of this quagmire. My guess is your libertarian ideology would lead us to a realiance on a cyclical turn for the better or a maybe tax cuts, which economically do not provide effective stimulus and would do little to change the downward trajectory the GOP established with tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation.
Gergel, the one who had those cutsey signs and campaigned on saving historic homes or something like that? I would pass those signs posted on the nice homes downtown then would pass the lower SES homes and projects that she ignored.
Thanks for the sharing wonderful story……….
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Stephen Benjamin will be an excellent choice for Mayor. Along with fresh ideas, he will also bring executive experience, dedication, wisdom and concern for our city.