One good thing about my interview Wednesday morning with Steve Morrison — I chose the table we sat at, so I had plenty of sunlight on my subject, and I was able to get better pictures with my Blackberry than I got with Kirkman Finlay III. One bad thing was that the Capital City Club was noisier, so my audio isn’t as good. Oh, well.
Ever since I first heard that this Steve (as opposed to the other Steve) was thinking of running, I’ve wondered: Why did he get in it so late? Was he not concerned that he would split the portion of the electorate that would otherwise have gone to Steve Benjamin, thereby throwing the campaign to Kirkman Finlay, with whom I would assume he would not agree as much politically?
To begin with, Mr. Morrison doesn’t think he’s getting into it all that late. He thinks a 100-day campaign, which is the way he’s thinking of it, is just about right.
He said he had three considerations in mind when deciding whether to run:
- Would it be OK with his family? And his wife Gail and the rest of the family seem to buy into what he’s trying to do.
- Would he divide the city racially? After talking about it to a lot of friends both black and white, he decided it wouldn’t. (This may sound kind of like the question I had, but it isn’t the same. I wasn’t just wondering about the “black vote” vs. the “white vote.” I was also thinking of the Shandon vote, the Rosewood vote, the Heathwood vote, the University Neighborhood vote, and so forth. Not my problem, but it just struck me as interesting that Mr. Morrison should enter only after Bob Coble was out of it, thereby meaning Mr. Benjamin would pretty much have those areas sewn up.)
- Could the mayor, in this form of government, make a difference? He decided he could.
He said he entered the race because the community was looking for “independence” — which, looking back at my notes, I suspect he meant “somebody who isn’t connected so strongly to payday lending,” but I
might be misreading that. Anyway, he saw himself as someone who had worked successfully in business (he was one of the top five people at PMSC in the Larry Wilson days) who was independent of special interests.
As for splitting the “Steve” vote, he said he thought he might have as much in common with Mr. Finlay as with Mr. Benjamin — as a top business executive who has worked with the business community extensively, as one who understands budgets, as a respecter of the taxpayers’ money.
That reminded me of something: The first time I ever had an encounter with what has come to be known as the Don Tomlin group — the faction in city politics that has backed Mr. Finlay and Daniel Rickenmann and Brian Boyer (the candidate who unsuccessfully opposed Belinda Gergel two years ago) — Steve Morrison was a member. In fact, he reminds me, he helped to found the Foundation for Columbia’s Future along with Mr. Tomlin and Gayle Averyt.
And while I think of Steve Morrison the way I came to know him — as chairman of the Columbia Urban League board, as lead attorney for poor school districts — he does have goals in common with the Tomlin folks:
“The commonality was good government, sound management,” he said.
Unfortunately, he says things got polarized along liberal-conservative lines, and so the group hasn’t accomplished the things he’d hoped.
All that aside, he’s running because he’s tired of things not getting done in Columbia:
- The bus system is still a mess, and no one knows how to pay for it.
- The riverfront hasn’t developed as promised.
- The city has “been dithering about strong mayor” for years and won’t put it on the ballot.
He believes he has the leadership and managerial skills to get things on track. As he points out, his law firm has a larger budget than the city, and PMSC was seven times as large in his time there.
For an audio sample from the interview:
Let me know if you have any trouble with the audio. On it, you will get a sample of how Mr. Morrison’s mind works as he explains why the riverfront TIF is not a good deal for Columbia at this point — especially with the city having to go it alone.
Finally, a disclaimer — aside from the fact that Steve Morrison and I served together on the Urban League board, he has quite recently served as my attorney. Not a big deal, but I thought you should know. Aside from that, having known him for years, I’ve heard him give quite a few quietly compelling speeches, and asked him why he didn’t run for office. He always shrugged it off — until now.