Tony Mizzell, city council candidate

Now for my actual post based on my official interview with Tony Mizzell, who’s running against Leona Plaugh, Kevin Fisher, Mary Baskin Waters and Walter Powell Jr. for the 4th District city council seat being vacated by Kirkman Finlay III.

We talked about a lot of things, such as the fact that he really likes being able to run in a nonpartisan race for a change (he served on Richland County Council as a Democrat), his wish to try skydiving, the fact that his wife cried when he said he was going to run again (so would mine — either that, or slap me upside the head) and his regret that a picture I took of him once still pops up when you Google him.

Oh, we also got into the fact that we are sort of competitors, with him being a veep at Chernoff Newman and me working over at ADCO, which made his buying an ad from me even more interesting. By the way, he put some tracking code on the ad, and says he’s “real pleased” with the traffic he’s gotten from it — you other potential customers, take note.

But the core of our conversation at the Capital City Club (and if you ask why Tony got breakfast at the club when others didn’t, it’s because Leona wanted to meet out at Woodhill, and Kevin wanted to meet tomorrow kind of late for breakfast, and Mary Baskin Waters has yet another place she wants to meet — Tony left it up to me)….

Where was I? Oh, yes, the core of our conversation was his four-part platform. In the video above, you can see and hear him talking about the fourth point, which he considers (rightly, I think) the strongest argument for his candidacy. Here are all four:

  1. Rectifying the city’s fiscal train wreck. He said the people of his district don’t ask for a lot from city government — just common sense and financial responsibility (which is why it elected Hamilton Osborne, then Mr. Finlay). He notes that he left county council (which he served as chairman toward the end, 2005-06) in good shape financially — even though it had been in rocky condition when he got there. “I’ve managed complex budgets,” he said, and he’s confident he can manage this one out of the hole it’s been in. He could “hit the ground running,” rather than spend a year or two figuring out the spreadsheets.
  2. Public safety. Getting the funding back up to adequate levels. Morale is low, the police department is underfunded, he believes. “We have got to start the budgeting process with law enforcement, fire, public safety,” he said. “Pet projects” that council members have been funding have to wait until times are better.
  3. Economic development. “I am a supporter of the creative class, entrepreneurism, the knowledge economy. Working with USC — that’s our biggest untapped resource and asset that this city has, and I think we’ve made great strides, but this is not a four or five year investment, this is a 15 or 20-year investment… we need to really focus on our strengths.” He noted that he was “very influential” in getting the city and county to work together to provide $38 million for parking garages for Innovista. That was a hard sell at the time on the Richco council because of disagreement with the city over TIF accountability. (Speaking of TIFs, he’s very opposed to the city going into these two latest ones alone, without the county and school districts.)
  4. “Lastly, and most importantly,” he described his “key selling point:” He’s the only one who brings the experience and relationships to the table to bridge city and county interactions. “In a crowded field, one candidate stands out” on this point, he argues. You can hear him speak about this at some length on the video above.

That last point led to a discussion of consolidation — not just consolidation of various services (zoning and planning, he says, is a no-brainer), but total city and county government consolidation, which he (like Leona Plaugh) supports.

Here are some other things we talked about:

  • The details of his ethics fine that opponent Kevin Fisher keeps bringing up. You can read the details of that on this earlier post.
  • The challenge he sees of getting people out to vote in this race. He’s pulling out all the stops, though. Before his ads appeared on my blog, they were appearing (on the IP addresses in the appropriate areas) on the New York Times site and YouTube, and he’s planning on making heavy use of Facebook in the last days. We also talked, as media types, about how too many people didn’t use social media right.
  • How much harder it is right now to raise money than it was when he last ran for office four years ago. “People who would normally give $500-$1,000” are only doing something like $250 — so you have to spend more time soliciting.
  • While Leona Plaugh is getting her message out almost entirely door-to-door, Tony is working the phones. He did some door-to-door early, but then realized he could be more effective, reach more people, by phone.
  • Unlike the mayoral race — which is grabbing all the attention — there haven’t been the multiple forums for readers to become familiar with the council candidates and their positions. He said there was one forum in North Columbia that he saw maybe two constituents at. This is particularly a disadvantage for him, he believes, as he thinks he does well in such venues, thanks to his local government experience. “I love forums,” he said.
  • He said he heard that Mr. Finlay was thrilled to hear that he, Mr. Mizzell, was getting into the race, because of the mathematics. It nearly ensured a runoff in the 4th district, which would help turnout in that district for the runoff, which Kirkman sees as to his advantage, those being his people.
  • The numbers in the district are more favorable to a (former) Democrat than you might suppose. His study of past elections suggests about a 45 percent Democratic constituency. He said John McCain and Barack Obama went 50-50 in the district in 2008.

There was more, but don’t you think that’s enough. I’m at the ADCO office — I came back here after Holy Thursday Mass — hours after everyone left.

Sorry I didn’t get to doing a Virtual Front Page today, but I’m bushed. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be interviewing Kevin Fisher at 9 and Mary Baskin Waters at 11:30. Then there’s Good Friday services at 3, so it might be Saturday before I get those posts up. But I’ll do it as soon as I can.

Tony Mizzell 021

19 thoughts on “Tony Mizzell, city council candidate

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    @Walter–If they can’t park, and there’s seriously nowhere to park over there, they certainly won’t come.
    It’s the problem Main Street is having. Zoning doesn’t require parking on Main Street. Scana left, in no small part because of lack of parking. Now businesses that depended on those workers to eat there are closing, like Palmetto Sandwich Shop. Pretty soon there won’t be a parking problem over there because it will truly be the Wig District.

    @ Brad–Is that Vince Sheheen in the reflection over Tony’s shoulder?

  2. Doug Ross


    But with all those jobs that will be filling the Innovista building any day now, we should see a boom downtown… right?

    A $38 million garage for an empty building wouldn’t exactly be on the top of my resume.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Innovista isn’t a building. Nor is it two buildings, or four buildings, or a dozen buildings.

    It’s an idea. It’s a movement. It’s a vision, one which many investors, scientists, entrepreneurs, technicians, inventors, data processors, landlords and others will have to buy into over a long period of time — at least a generation — for the vision to be realized.

    You know, like the commercial/hospitality/entertainment area next door, known as the Congaree Vista, that was just a bunch of derelict buildings 25 years ago when Mayor Kirkman Finlay imagined what it could be.

    Now look at it. Is the Vista the former Confederate Printing Plant, or the old train station, or whatever was in Hal Stevenson’s building that now houses Starbucks? No. It was an idea that a lot of players, public and especially private, bought into over decades.

    That’s the idea with the Innovista, except that it is to be driven by research and practical applications of research. But it will also have commercial, residential and recreational components as it becomes populated.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    You needed to record that last comment in your best Jimmy Stewart voice.

    Doug– They need parking over there, whether or not the buildings ever get filled, and do you really think the buildings will just sit empty? Really?

  5. Walter

    I’ve been involved with the Innovista project… do you want my impression of it? It’s a bunch of empty buildings that will more than likely stay that way until USC decides to start using them because of their ongoing shortage of classrooms and office space. The Innovista project reminds me of those old rockets that got about 10 feet off the ground before falling over and exploding.

  6. Doug Ross

    The Vista grew over time… building by building… and the businesses that didn’t work, failed. Innovista is not allowed to fail (or to even suggest that it has been a failure so far) because the government can keep throwing millions of tax dollars at it. That’s the BIG difference.

    If the buildings are empty now, then someone screwed up big time. All those millions could have been spent on programs that were more feasible and useful. If you invest in something, you expect a return on investment. The return so far has been very much negative. Without bailouts from tax dollars, it would have collapsed already.

  7. Libb

    “Embarking on purely speculative investments in university-private partnerships (e.g. Innovista) is irresponsible behavior.”

    “Focus on Innovista in poor economic times is starving the rest of the campus.”

    “Education first, then research and scholarly activities.”

    The above comments were taken from a College of Arts & Sciences faculty survey. Seems to me they are the voices of reason howling in the wind.

  8. Kathryn Fenner

    Look, I understand the complaints of the faculty. My professor husband has not had even a cost-of-living raise in half a decade. I get it. They shouldn’t have poured money into speculative investment when they didn’t exactly have it lying around in the first place.
    That said, it’s done, and it sure makes a formerly shabby area look nice, and it won’t go to waste.

  9. Brad Warthen

    Yeah, you get that a lot from faculty — particularly from folks in the humanities or other areas likely to get jealous of extra resources going to applied sciences.

    And Kathryn, you make another good point — what’s done is done: A couple of buildings that happened to go up just as the economy crashed, meaning it will be awhile before they’re fully utilized. (And remember, they are NOT typical of what the Innovista will be; they were just a way to plant a seed.) I’m not sure I understand what millions of dollars Doug is thinking are continuing to be “thrown” at that aspect of the Innovista. Is he complaining about some other aspect, such as the proposed waterfront park and the associated TIF (a TIF that will soon lose the slight majority that voted for it, by the way)?

  10. Doug Ross


    You keep trying to minimize the failure of Innovista so far. A “couple buildings” cost over a hundred million dollars. And they are empty (except where University groups were moved in to help save face for USC and Harrell).

    Sometimes big ideas are bad ideas and you have to look at the execution of the plan versus the plan itself. Saying “Nice try” when you fail horribly isn’t the answer. Saying “You’re fired” is the correct response.

  11. Doug Ross

    Wow, someone speaking the truth about Innovista – the man in charge of it now:

    Herriott took over the reins of Innovista in January after the prior director resigned amid controversy last year.

    The 60-year-old ex-Roche pharmaceuticals executive said the concept of Innovista should move from a pre-built campus intended to attract blue-chip companies like IBM and Intel, to growing local companies in existing incubators and commercial space already available throughout downtown.

    In baseball terms, he wants to play small ball.

    “We swung for the fences and we struck out,” he said. “Now we want to hit a lot of singles. The goal is to win the game.”

    Read more:

    That’s a refreshing bit of honesty which is sorely lacking in our government.

  12. Doug Ross

    The entire article in The State is pretty damning evidence of the Innovista fiasco.

    It would have been better to give 100 local entrepreneurs a million each than to throw $100 million into a fairy tale dream without any sound business plan.

    But, hey, at least we got a garage out of the deal. That ought to create at least 7-8 jobs working the cash register.

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