Category Archives: 2010 Columbia mayoral

How will you Columbians vote tomorrow?

Who will succeed this guy, shown on the night of his 2010 victory?

No, not Colombians. I mean you people who live in that big town across the river from me.

I just thought I’d ask, before the election happens.

First, Columbians — and many of you are my friends, if I may use that word — please tell me you are going to vote. And too few do, in these elections. Far, far too few. And then, if you don’t mind, tell us whom you support, and why.

I’d tell you who I’d pick, but honestly, I don’t feel qualified to say. First, I haven’t kept up with city issues the way I did at the paper, when we kicked around those and other local matters every day in our morning meeting. And of course, I haven’t interviewed the candidates — even in the truncated form in which I once did it here on the blog.

My easiest-to-imagine leaning is toward Sam Johnson for mayor. But I’m aware that that’s because of — if I may use the word — he and his team are sort of in my friend circle. While I had trouble choosing between him and the late Steve Morrison during the election of 2010 — Morrison would have been an excellent mayor — I’ve been supportive of Steve Benjamin since then. And Sam and Michael Wukela have been very much his guys (Michael is doing communications for Sam, as I did for James three years ago). I like all those guys. Not that we are always on the same side.

Of course, being buds with people may be one of the most common reasons some would back a candidate. It’s not good enough for me, though. I need to know more. I need to have put in the time.

I also like Tameika Isaac Devine, although I don’t know her quite as well. I’ve been pretty pleased since she was elected — a remarkable election in that she proved for the first time that a black woman didn’t have to be gerrymandered into an easy district to get elected in Columbia. Also, I’m very impressed that while Sam has Mayor Benjamin’s support (as you’d expect), Tameika is backed by Howard Duvall. And there’s no one whose informed views of municipal issues I respect more than Howard’s.

So I’m sort of cheering for Sam, but I could see myself cheering for Tameika as well. If I were a Columbia resident, or still editorial page editor with the responsibility of endorsing, I’d have informed myself well enough to confidently propose a choice between them.

But I haven’t.

Meanwhile, I doubt any sort of closer examination of Daniel Rickenmann would cause me to choose him. Maybe it would, but my gut says no. I’ve seen anecdotal evidence that quite a few white business types in town are for him, however. As for Moe, well, no thanks.

As Bryan likes to say, your mileage may vary. Which brings me to my point: Never mind what I think. I’ve admitted I just don’t know. What do y’all think? And why?

Benjamin joins Ogletree, Deakins law firm

Just got this release…

OK, never mind! I was going to copy a couple of grafs out of the release here for your perusal, but it’s a blasted PDF file, and you know how sometimes you can copy text out of a PDF and sometimes you can’t? This is one of those where you can’t, which is another occasion for me to say, as a blogger who values convenience and accessibility in information online…


OK, that’s out of my system.

Anyway, the release, which you can find here, says that Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, one of the nation’s largest labor and employment law firms, has hired Steve Benjamin effective Aug. 1.

I guess it’s kind of hard keeping a small law firm (Benjamin Law Firm, LLC) going when you’re distracted by the all-consuming “part-time” job of being mayor. Maybe someday we’ll get all grown up and have a full-time mayor in this town, and then the mayor won’t have to make arrangements on the side to feed his family. In the meantime, this kind of move makes sense: Going with a large firm that can afford to give you lots of leeway on your time…

Steve Benjamin’s fast start

It may look like the mayor is deeply involved in some problem facing the city, but actually he's "taking orders" from his wife./photo by Brad Warthen

Steve Benjamin wants to get a lot done as Columbia’s new mayor, and his first city council meeting is testimony to that: Right off the bat, he’s moving on getting Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to take over the city’s troubled police department.

That’s real action, and of the sort that the city needs more of.

I dropped by the new mayor’s office yesterday to see how he’s getting along — which was a new experience for me, actually. I never visited Mayor Bob in his office before. (When I was at the paper, I didn’t get out much, and when I did it was usually to the State House, not local gummint offices.) Of course, it was a different office. There was nothing particularly remarkable about this one. It’s bigger than my office at ADCO, but not as well air-conditioned. It’s not as nice as the corner office I had at The State (which had formerly been the publisher’s office). Somewhere in the middle — a Mama Bear office. It had nowhere near the impressive drama of Joe Riley’s office in Charleston. There, the visitor can hardly see The Mayor seated behind his desk and gloriously backlit by a huge cathedral window, letting the visitor know he is in The Presence — which is perfectly appropriate, since I think Mayor Joe is America’s best mayor. Steve had a window behind him, but that was about it.

I mention those details because when I had lunch with ex-Mayor Bob yesterday he referred to an Adam Beam story that Bob felt implied Steve was being grandiose in taking the city manager’s office for himself — but I think Bob was being extra touchy on Steve’s behalf there. I thought Adam’s reference was sort of neutral. In any case, there’s nothing grand about the office.

Anyway, during my visit Steve touched on a number of things he wants to move on, from small to large:

  • He showed me mockups of highway signs that are to go at all the entrances to Columbia, saying “Welcome to Columbia, Home of the 2010 NCAA College Baseball National Champion University of South Carolina Gamecocks.”
  • As for his idea about getting the USC Law School to move into the office space formerly occupied by SCANA, “That’s something that I want so bad that I can taste it.” Ideally, a private 3rd party would buy the building and lease it to the university so that it stays on the tax rolls, but if that doesn’t happen it’s not a deal-breaker. He’s working on the USC trustees one at a time, and is finding some support for the move. There are some who still want to build a new building, but the Main Street idea is far more practical, and would do so much to further the continued revitalization of that corridor.
  • Speaking of which, he wants to get the streetscaping of Main Street finished. He thinks it’s an oversight that that didn’t get into the mix of projects that would be funded by the sales tax increase for transportation that will be on the ballot in November. Beyond that, he has a number of ideas about further enhancing the city center, including — this would be down the line, probably with federal dollars — a restoration of City Hall and a revamp of the space between it and the county courthouse, getting rid of the parking lot and tying the buildings together better.
  • Trolleys. He wants to bring them back at some point, not as part of the overall transportation strategy, but merely as an aid to tourism. With the convention center up and running and busy and the new convention hotel and the Vista still booming and Main Street coming back, he sees much more potential for the trolleys than was there when the used to ride around empty.
  • An industrial park. He sees Columbia as badly needing a place to put large businesses if it manages to recruit them. He sees the city as needing something — probably on the south end of town — like the space that the aforementioned SCANA moved to across the river.
  • Speaking of across the river — he continues to be all about regional cooperation, from the airport to the convention center (which is in need of expansion — we’re losing a lot of conventions for which it is too small, from what I hear). And he doesn’t see that running one way. He wants the city more involved in helping to promote the Lake Murray area and other parts of the Midlands.

He’s restless and ready to get moving. Which is promising.

The Benjamin inaugural breakfast

I’m backdating this because I’m catching up. I’m saying that so you’ll have an explanation when you go, “Huh? That wasn’t there on Thursday!”

Anyway, I thought I’d provide a glimpse of the breakfast at the Cap City Club. My wife and my daughter the dancer went along, as the event was a benefit for Columbia City Ballet. William Starrett and I both wore seersucker, but I swear we didn’t coordinate it in advance. We sat across from George Zara and John Kessler from Providence Hospital and Mrs. Kessler.

Below you will see the Fourth Estate posing with the … what Estate would the new mayor be (I’m not sure it fits into that model)? In any case, Adam Beam of The State and Steve Benjamin are having their picture taken by the Fifth Estate, a phrase which as you know I continue to belabor in the hope that it will catch on.

Benjamin’s statements and other documents

As promised earlier in the day, here is a PDF of the documents Steve Benjamin released today. The Acrobat file includes:

  • A statement he made to police on May 3
  • A second statement made on May 6
  • A third statement dated May 19
  • A Uniform Traffic Ticket dated June 1 (it says “Date of Arrest,” but that’s just a formality; if I recall correctly, all traffic tickets say that)
  • The original incident report

Sorry to take so long to get these to you. I cooked and ate dinner first. Also had me a beer. So sue me.

I see that in the meantime, has posted its own PDF of the same document, which they have enhanced to increase contrast. Read that one if you prefer, but I went to the trouble of scanning this one a page at a time, so I’m going to bloody well post it.

Benjamin pays $81.87 fine; ready to move on

OK, that headline sounded a little too brusque. Obviously, the mayor-elect isn’t going to put this behind him in the sense of forgetting Ms. Ruben and her serious injuries. He makes the point repeatedly that she is in his prayers, and he would like a chance to see her when it’s OK with her family.

A phone photo of a copy of the citation; sorry about the quality.

But legally speaking, Steve’s mouthpiece James Smith says that now that the fine for driving without his headlights on has been paid (this morning, at a magistrate’s office), the case is done as far as any culpability for the accident on Mr. Benjamin’s part is concerned.

At the less than 15-minute press conference at City Hall, Mr. Benjamin’s aides distributed copies of a series of written statements by him regarding the accident, plus a traffic ticket he was given yesterday, and the original incident report. (I’ll scan those into a PDF for you when I’m home where my scanner is, or link you to them if someone beats me to it, which seems likely.)

As for how he could have been driving without his lights on in a high-tech Mercedes SUV, here’s the salient part of the statement:

My wife and I stayed at the Hilton Hotel in the Vista after the conclusion of the events of election day and election night, April 20, 2010. I was scheduled to be interviewed by WLTX on the April 21, 2010, 6:00 a.m. newscast. I awoke and prepared myself for the morning. I went to the hotel lobby at approximately 5:30 a.m. I had to retrieve the keys for my wife’s vehicle from the desk as there was no valet on duty and the valet had parked our vehicle th day before. I spoke with the front desk clerk and she gave me the keys to my wife’s vehicle. I prepared a cup of coffee and exited the rear of the hotel and walked into the parking garage. I located my wife’s vehicle, got in, started the vehicle, put on the seat belt and exited the parking garage. My wife’s vehicle has automatic lights. I did not adjust the light setting. As I drove the vehicle, the dashboard was illuminated and I was able to clearly see my path of travel.

Steve was reluctant to elaborate on how the lights could have been off, repeatedly referring reporters back to the statement. We were left with the implication that someone other than he had switched the lights off of automatic mode without his knowledge, but he hesitated to come right out and say “The valet did it.”

Other items from the statements and answers at the press confab:

  • He had the green light.
  • He was in the left lane of the two lanes heading east on Gervais at the time of the collision.
  • “I was not impaired at the time of the accident.”
  • “I was not fatigued at the time of the accident.”
  • “I slept approximately 10 hours in the two nights prior to the accident. The night of the accident I went to bed shortly after 2:00 a.m.”
  • At about 11:45 the night before, a supporter bought him “a vodka and tonic or soda.” He said “I cannot remember if I took a sip or two sips, but I drank a little just to be polite.” He later had a drink of Malibu rum and orange juice, just after midnight.
  • During the 24 hours before the accident, he had a biscuit with meat and coffee at 7:20 a.m. on election day; baked chicken and green beans for lunch, with water; snacks and candy at various times during the day; missed dinner at the usual hour but ate fruit and vegetables with some water at the convention center celebration.
  • He had the sips from the vodka drink at the Liberty Tap Room, where they had hoped to get dinner, but the kitchen was closed.
  • He and family and friends moved on to the Sheraton, where “I consumed a cheeseburger, fries,  non-alcoholic iced tea and one Malibu and orange juice at approximately 12:12-12:30 a.m. He said he also had some appetizers. Then there was the coffee the next morning.
  • Other than the sips of vodka and the rum-and-orange juice (which I’ve got to say sounds like a nasty drink), he acknowledges drinking no alcohol during that 24 hours.
  • He says he did not make or receive any phone calls while driving that morning. Nor did he send or check text messages. But he adds, “I did check my voicemail and listened to messages using my speaker function of my cell phone.” The statement is unclear whether that was WHILE driving and no one thought during the press conference to ask that question. Sounds like it was. He concludes that statement, “I was not distracted at the time of the accident.”

That’s what I’ve got for now. I didn’t have my camera, but I’ll have a phone photo or two for you shortly. I’ll post PDFs of the statements and other documents tonight.

Oh, as the “move on” thing in the headline. James said this concludes Benjamin’s part in any legal matters having to do with the accident. As for the city police, their final report won’t be done until the state Highway Patrol is done reviewing it.

The mayor-elect himself made several references to his transition team and the 8 issue areas they are concentrating on, and said he hopes to get as good a media turnout as he had today when the team is ready to unveil their findings on those issues. In other words, he’s anxious to get started doing the job.

Benjamin’s transition team

This just in from Columbia’s mayor-elect, Steve Benjamin:

Columbia, SC – In his continuing effort to bring together a broad cross-section of business, government, neighborhood, and community leaders to help address the key challenges facing our city, Columbia Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin today announced his four Transition Team Co-Chairs as:
·       Former Mayor Pro-Tem and Richland County Bar Association President Luther Battiste.
·       CoastalStates Bank Executive Vice President & Managing Director and Midlands Technical College Trustee Robert Dozier.
·       Internet pioneer, entrepreneur, and director of TheRackesGroup Barbara Rackes.
·       Recognized community leader and Columbia Council of Neighborhoods President Bessie Watson.
“Last month, the people of Columbia elected me to bring new ideas, new leadership, and change to City Hall,” Benjamin said. “We have set the bar high. But I am confident that the expertise and dedication these four exceptional men and women bring to this effort will exceed our expectations.”
The four Transition Team Co-Chairs are tasked with making an assessment of the city government’s ability to effectively address citizens’ needs and, in consultation with fellow committee members and city staff, to make recommendations and deliver a report to the Mayor and Council by July 1st.
“This is an opportunity to take stock in the past and to look forward to the challenges ahead,” Benjamin explained. “It’s an opportunity to identify our obstacles while build a consensus so we can overcome them together.”
A full transition committee list including each committee’s chair is expected later this week.

Benjamin was elected on April 20th in a record turnout election and will be sworn in as Mayor of Columbia on June 30.

An update from Steve Benjamin

This just came in via e-mail:

Dear friends,

On June 30th, I will stand before the people of Columbia and swear the oath of office to become mayor.

I am thankful for all of your hard work that has led us to this moment and I remain humbled by the faith you’ve placed in me and my vision for our city.  I know that I would not be here if it weren’t for you.

That’s why I wanted to take a few minutes to give you an update on everything we have done and are doing leading up to July’s transition.

As you may already know, Mayor Coble and City Council have graciously invited me to attend and participate in all City Council meetings and work sessions. While I do not have a vote, I have accepted his invitation and have already attended several meetings and budget work sessions.

I have regular meetings with the city manager and have met with all assistant city managers and department heads in order to gain a full understanding of all the projects and initiatives currently underway as well as ask for their input on how the city can be run more effectively and efficiently.

We have some truly talented and dedicated public servants working for the City of Columbia and I am honored to be working with them.

I am confident that by working together, we can accomplish anything.

While it is vital to learn the ins and outs of City Hall, I remain convinced that the key to creating real and lasting change in Columbia lies beyond those walls in an honest partnership with our regional neighbors.

With that in mind, I have made it a point to meet with or reach out to every mayor in Richland and Lexington Counties as well as the Chairmen for both County Councils in order to begin fostering the regional cooperation and collaboration I campaigned on.

Whether leading the charge on fiscal accountability and transparency, standing up to support first responders, protecting our natural environment, or promoting the arts; our campaign was fundamentally about bringing people together and creating One Columbia.

Now, with the campaign over, I am reaching across the traditional boundaries that have divided us for too long and pulling together a transition team that represents the best South Carolina has to offer.

I will announce the leadership of the transition team this week and start finalizing dates for a series of community meetings across our city.

The One Columbia Listening Tour will give every citizen from every neighborhood a chance to voice your unfiltered ideas and concerns directly to me. But, more importantly, it will give us all an opportunity to find the common ground we share so that together we can start building the future our families deserve.

Look for more updates to find out how you can help as we move closer to the July 1st transition and beyond.

God Bless you and God Bless the City of Columbia.