Category Archives: 2012 Columbia city election

Warren’s absolutely right, Moe

What caused him to change his mind?/Photo by Brett Flashnick

I certainly hope Moe Baddourah read Warren Bolton’s column this morning, and took it to heart. Excerpts:

WHILE COLUMBIA City Councilman Moe Baddourah will take his first formal vote at today’s council meeting, it’s doubtful that many of his official votes loom as large as an unofficial decision he made following a May 8 public hearing.

That was the day he back-tracked on what had been a strong stance in favor of allowing voters to decide whether the city should change its form of government from council-manager to strong mayor. Up until then, it seemed evident that when Mr. Baddourah and Cameron Runyan joined the council — they both were sworn in last week — the seven-member body would have a majority in favor of putting strong mayor on the ballot.

As a matter of fact, some had questioned whether the council seated in May should even have voted, knowing that it could make a decision very different from what the new council that assembles today would make. It was generally thought that there was a 4-3 split against strong mayor at that time…

When Mr. Baddourah visited with our editorial board prior to the April city elections, he was emphatic in saying that Mayor Steve Benjamin needed more authority. “I think Columbia is ready for that,” he said.

“We need a (full-time) mayor for the city to bring business in,” Mr. Baddourah said. “I’d love for Benjamin to be a full-time mayor. I think he’s a really good face for the city.”

So, imagine my surprise as I watched the public hearing, held during a council meeting, live online only to see Mr. Baddourah do a 180 when he and Mr. Runyan were put on the spot as to how they might vote once they joined the council.

Maybe it was the pressure of the moment. Or maybe he genuinely changed his mind. Whatever the case, it was abrupt and damaging to the effort to allow voters to have a say as to what form of government they choose to live under…

I’m not much of one for campaign promises. I generally think candidates should keep their options open for what they encounter in office. I even think when they do make the mistake of promising something, they should be free to change their minds — as long as they can make a good case for it.

But come on. In this case, Moe had just been elected, and had been elected not only indicating he’d support letting voters decide, but asserting strongly that he favored a certain outcome from that public vote.

And then, without having been through any discussion or other discernment process that was visible to the voters, he announces that he won’t even let the voters themselves decide the issue, and does it before he even takes office? Really?

It’s as shocking and as sudden and as premature a turn-around as I’ve ever seen.

This is indeed a case in which a mind so easily changed should carefully consider changing back. And then he should explain fully to the people who elected him what caused him to make such a strange announcement between the election and taking office.

City council’s strong-mayor debacle

It’s a great shame that Columbia city council voted not even to ask voters whether they would like to inject accountability into city government by moving to a strong-mayor form of government.

But it was predictable that they would do so. I feared that outcome when I saw that the council planned to vote right after a public hearing.

The proposal would have a chance put before the electorate — particularly in the fall, when a much more representative swath of the city’s voters will turn out, as compared to actual city elections.

But the kinds of people who turn up at hearings before council happens to be much the same set of people who passionately oppose such a change — even to the point, apparently, of not wanting their neighbors to have a chance to vote on it.

This is always the way. The people who are most opposed to a reform — or, to use more neutral language, a change of any kind — in the form of government are the very people most invested in the current form. And people who regularly go to council meetings tend to be people who have become comfortable with and accustomed to the current form. They’ve learned to make the existing system stand up and do what they want, so they don’t want it replaced.

I saw this on a much larger scale when we first started pressing for changing the form of state government in the early 90s. We were pushing for a more accountable system in which the will of the electorate would be more likely to be expressed in the way the executive branch of state government was run. We were seeking to replace a bewildering set of mixed-up governing arrangements that varied greatly from agency to agency (and still exists over most of state government).

The system was (and remains) far too complex and fragmented for the average citizen to understand or engage effectively. But what that meant was that the people who DID know how to make it work — experienced lawmakers, skilled bureaucrats, interest-group advocates and lobbyists — had a tremendous advantage in dealing with it. And consequently did not want it to change.

With city government, it’s more likely to be people who are very active in neighborhood associations who oppose a change that would make city administration accountable directly to one person elected citywide, rather than a hodgepodge of at-large and district representatives (with the district people having the majority).

Anyway… Columbia has missed yet another opportunity, and continues to be in the grip of a decades-long rear-guard action against progress.

A postscript… I was quite indignant that council did not wait for new members to join, since I knew that both Cameron Runyan and Moe Baddourah favored strong mayor. It seemed that anti-change incumbents were forcing a vote now to avoid losing.

But then I read in Clif LeBlanc’s report this morning, “Baddourah, who replaces Gergel, said he’s had a change of heart and would not support holding a vote this fall.”

Which really blew my mind, because I saw him on local TV news, either last night or the night before, stating his unequivocal support for strong mayor.

Clif needs to do a full, exhaustive, separate story on what in the world just happened there…

District 3 voters: What motivated you to vote as you did?

I’m asking because I was somewhat surprised at how easily Moe Baddourah won the runoff yesterday. Nothing against Moe — I wish him all the best, and hope he’s a very successful council member — but that’s not the way I thought it would end up. I thought Daniel Coble would win, although not run away with it. I saw a Baddourah win as possible, but again, I figured it would be close.

My reasoning was as follows. I thought:

  • Moe had pretty much received all of his potential support in the first go-round. I had seen him as the pro-business, suspicious-of-government candidate in the race, and that he got all of those voters on April 3.
  • All voters who were attracted to Jenny Isgett’s theme that since the district had been represented by a woman for 30 years, it should go for her, seemed more likely to go for Coble in the runoff.
  • Coble’s support was more visible, and seemed more enthusiastic. I really felt for Moe at that neighborhood association meeting where Brett shot the video. At one point he mentioned that the small crowd seemed to be 90 percent for Coble, and I think he was right.
  • Everybody who I knew had declared for a candidate had declared for Coble. I can’t think of anybody who publicly endorsed Moe in the last couple of weeks. That doesn’t mean no one did, but the news didn’t get to me. (Yes, someone will inevitably say that personal endorsements are meaningless, as someone always does but they’ll be wrong. In fact, in an election with no reported polling, they’re about all you have to go by. And even if they didn’t mean much individually, they ALL seemed to go to Coble, which had to be indicative of something.)

But all that reasoning added up to nothing, which leaves me speculating as to the reason it went the other way:

  • Moe and Jenny were actually the anti-establishment vote, or the anti-Coble (as in Bob) vote, if you will.  Jenny voters only had one non-Coble candidate left, and so they went for him.
  • Voters reacted against Coble’s youth.
  • Every one of those public endorsements — Belinda Gergel, James Smith, Steve Morrison, Kit Smith and to a lesser extent Mike Miller — counted against Coble with an electorate that was in an anti-establishment mood. Coble was definitely the Shandonista candidate, and maybe voters in other areas (and perhaps in Shandon itself) reacted against that.
  • One of the few issues on which there was a noticeable difference between the candidates — the water/sewer money, funding the bus system — meant more to voters in those neighborhoods than I could tell as an outsider. (But this explanation seems unlikely, because the differences between them were mere matters of degree, not fundamental values.)
  • There’s more dissatisfaction with the current city council than I had thought (and voting for Baddourah was more of a vote for “change”). I had heard a lot less general grumbling since Benjamin, Plaugh, Gergel and Newman had been elected, but maybe the honeymoon is truly over.
  • Moe had told me he had learned a lot from losing to Seth Rose two years ago. And remember, Seth was an anti-establishment candidate, because he also beat Kit Smith’s chosen successor (a fellow Bennettsville boy). Part of that was a lot of knocking on doors. Of course, Coble did that, too. But maybe there were some organizational things I couldn’t see that really helped Moe turn out his identified supporters — which is everything in such a tiny-turnout election. (But I knew Moe didn’t do everything that Seth did, because Seth advertised on this blog. Ahem.)

As far as tactics are concerned, I could just ask Moe. And I will when I see him. But I’m more interested in why the tactics worked — that is to say, I’m more curious about what the voters themselves were thinking. And since there was no exit polling, I’m asking now.

So how about it, District 3 voters? Whether you backed Baddourah or Coble, why did you do so? Your answers may bear significantly on the future course of Columbia.

District 3 folks, be sure to vote in runoff today

Well, today’s the day for folks in Rosewood, Shandon, Melrose and other nearby parts of Columbia. Get out there and exercise your franchise.

I liked Alex Postic‘s (that is to say, Mr. Shop Tart‘s) take on the election on Facebook this morning:

Don’t forget to vote today Columbia. Either way, I think Columbia wins – and we get a neighbor on City Council.

Which is no exaggeration. Moe told me he’s like next door from the Tart — which puts him across the street from the house I lived in when I was 4 years old — and Daniel’s very close by as well.

This is the kind of politics you get when you stretch subsidiarity to the max (not the max that Paul Ryan would take it to, which would be the individual, but the max the way I’ve always understood the concept — buy I digress).

Here’s hoping that when it’s over, Columbia does indeed win.

The videos we did for the Coble campaign

Here are the three videos ADCO created for the Daniel Coble runoff campaign. I like the way they came out.

I think you’ll find they’re a little different from what you usually see from a political campaign.

There are no “gotchas” here. We haven’t edited the truth to try to embarrass the opponent or make him look bad. Our purpose was more journalistic, to provide the voter with information they weren’t getting from news media, to help them make up their minds. Yes, we thought Daniel looked a little better than Moe in these clips. But the clips weren’t just chosen on that basis — in fact, we thought Daniel came across better throughout the debate, although Moe handled himself well, too. They were chosen because they struck a nice balance between complete answers, more than you’d get on TV news, without being so lengthy that the viewer wouldn’t lose interest and go away. (For instance, there were some really pertinent passages when the candidates discussed an important issue at some length — such as when Coble explained his position on water and sewer funds being used in the general fund, and did a good job with it — but we felt they were too long for this purpose.)

At the end of this forum, before the Melrose Neighborhood Association on Monday night, Moe Baddourah thanked the group and praised the format. He liked it because he wasn’t limited to 30-second answers as in some such gatherings. I think he was right, and you should be able to see some of what he liked about the format in these clips, even though we didn’t use some of the longer answers.

Each of the answers you see is mostly complete and unedited. I say “mostly” because in several cases, we trimmed the beginning of an answer and started the clip at the point when the candidate settled down to really answering the question — to the extent that he actually did answer it, which didn’t always happen.

You might watch these and decide you prefer Moe to Daniel, although I think most people will not. In any case, you can get a pretty good sense from watching them which of them approaches issues, and public service, in the way that you would prefer an elected representative to do.

I could elaborate here on the three clips and why we chose them, but I’d rather that those of you who are interested (particularly those who live in Columbia’s third district) would look at them with a fresh eye first, and after I see your reaction, I’ll elaborate.


Here’s what a Coble endorsement looks like

Some readers seemed confused earlier as to what an “endorsement” of a candidate looked like. It looks like this, in The State today:

COLUMBIA City Council District 3 runoff opponents Moe Baddourah and Daniel Coble are solid candidates who share common priorities, from focusing on district needs to improving public safety and providing long-term funding for the public bus system.

They also share a common drawback: We fear their strong focus on constituent and district needs could lead them to put those interests ahead of more important citywide issues.

While the two men are pretty even in many ways, Mr. Coble does distinguish himself as the better candidate. His knowledge and understanding of city issues and how government works stood out among all candidates in the just-concluded council races….

Now I can’t say it’s a ringing, unequivocal endorsement. Daniel is The State‘s second choice for the seat. My old colleagues initially endorsed Jenny Isgett, who did not make it into the runoff.

Now if I did endorse someone, it would be Daniel. It so happens that the candidate ADCO is doing work for is the one I would choose were I endorsing. But wait, you say! Isn’t my saying that an endorsement?

Not to me. I’ve spent many years of my life doing endorsements, and I have a very clear idea of what one is. To me, an endorsement involves setting forth a series of arguments as to why someone is the better candidate. As I’ve said thousands of times over the years, the value in an endorsement is the reasons why, not the mere who.

That goes to the core of why newspapers do endorsements (and should do endorsements). It doesn’t matter whether a reader ultimately agrees with the endorsement or not. It is valuable to have considered the arguments, whether you accept them in the end or not. For having spent that time reading a carefully constructed case for a candidate, your own ultimate decision will have been better-considered.

The endorsement in The State today is pretty good. It’s not exactly what I would have written, and were I still the editor I’d have made some changes in the piece, but I generally agree with the points made.

Something you should know: I’m helping Coble

The Melrose event Monday night.

Last night I went to a debate between Daniel Coble and Moe Baddourah sponsored by the Melrose Neighborhood Association. But I’m not going to tell you what I think about what was said there because I wasn’t there as a blogger. This is complicated by the fact that various people who saw me there, including Moe, probably think I was there as a blogger. So this is to set the record straight.

I’ll start at the beginning.

Lately, a large part of my job with ADCO has been business development. In connection with that, I went to breakfast one morning several weeks ago (Feb. 23) with my old friend Bud Ferillo, and I urged him that if he ever finds himself in a situation where he’s representing a client who needs some of the services that ADCO provides, he should give me a call.

Sometime later (I’m not exactly sure when, but my first email on the subject was on the Ides of March), he gave me a buzz and said he needed some help with the production of some last-minute mailings for the Daniel Coble campaign. Fine. I put him in contact with colleagues here at ADCO with expertise in that area, and they helped him out.

At that point, I wasn’t directly involved, beyond getting people together. (I didn’t even see the mailings until after they were done and gone.) Nevertheless, when I interviewed Moe for this post, and when I interviewed Mike Miller for this one, I mentioned what my company was doing to help out Bud on Daniel’s behalf. Neither of them expressed any concern. (I meant to tell Jenny Isgett when I interviewed her, but later realized I had forgotten. And given the reactions of the other candidates, it didn’t seem worth a separate call. I’ll let you be the judge whether I was right about that.)

Then, over the next couple of weeks, I got slightly more involved, but only in the sense of being a conduit for communications between the campaign and folks at ADCO.

Last Thursday, my status changed. On that day, Bud asked whether ADCO could shoot video at a debate Monday night, and provide YouTube clips contrasting the candidates. I checked, and our usual in-house people couldn’t do it that night. There wasn’t time for handling things the usual way. I went ahead and personally lined up a free-lancer, Brett Flashnick, who readily agreed to help out.

So I was there last night in case he had questions, and also so I could witness the whole debate, and be able to help him in editing the video. This afternoon, Brett and Bud and I spent between two and three hours going through video and choosing some clips of good YouTube length. Brett has left now and will send Bud and Daniel the finished product to see if they approve.

So basically, I’ve been heavily involved now in making editorial judgments about campaign materials. I wasn’t involved in that way at all before, but I am now.

Even before things got to this point, I was worried about what, if anything, I should write about the campaign. When I wrote about all those endorsements that Daniel got on March 29, the news was so helpful (in my opinion) to the Coble campaign that I worried that I wasn’t reporting anything of similar impact from the other campaigns, and that it could look like I was favoring him. But I couldn’t figure out how to balance things out. Neither Moe nor Jenny were generating news like that; I wasn’t seeing anything new to react to.

Now that I write that, I realize that as indirect as my involvement was before, I should have told y’all about it. The fact that it was entering my head, that I was worrying about whether I was being 100 percent fair or not, even a little bit, means I should have told y’all so you could judge for yourselves. But I didn’t. I thought about it, but I decided that I was overthinking things, and that all I would accomplish would be to make the connection sound like a bigger deal than it was. Which is a case of over-overthinking, now that I think further (over-over-overthink) about it.

Also, I thought this: The fact that Daniel was the only candidate advertising on my blog (and I assure you, the other candidates had the same opportunities to do so that he did) was a greater apparent conflict than my indirect involvement with those mailings. And y’all knew about that — you could see the ad — and were therefore forewarned and armed to make any judgments you chose to make as to whether I was being fair.

Regardless of decisions I made in the past, there’s no question now: Y’all should know that I am involved at this point. So, anything else I say about this runoff (which probably won’t be much) must be considered in light of the fact that I’ve definitely, directly, done work to help the Coble campaign. I fact, I invite you to go back and read everything else I’ve written up to now (just use the search feature to look for the candidates’ names), and decide for yourself.

Of course, this is an opinion blog. I never make any pretense to news-style “objectivity.” But what I invite you to do is see whether you think any subjective judgments I’ve made were ones I would have made anyway, without any involvement in the campaign. Actually, what I see when I look back is that I held back from expressing any strong opinions or preferences. Which means that what I wrote was affected. Because that’s not normal for me.

All of this is making my head hurt. This, of course, is why people who make their livings as reporters and editors just don’t get involved, period. Or at least, that’s the way it used to be when there were good, full-time jobs to be had in that field.

Now, increasingly, news (or at least commentary) is brought to you by people who make their livings some other way. Which is something you have long known about me.

Life is confusing here in the New Normal, and all I can figure out to do about it is to tell y’all what I’m doing. Which I just did.

And the runoff begins…

Got this this morning from Daniel Coble:

In Tuesday’s District 3 City Council three-way race, I came within 60 votes of catching front-runner Moe Baddourah and leading the District. In less than two weeks, I face him again in a run-off election for the City Council seat. I am very gratified for the support of friends and neighbors within the District and around Columbia for getting me to this point!! A lot rides on this election. And with your help, we will win Tuesday, April 17.

The contrast between Mr. Baddourah’s priorities and my own for serving Columbia could not be more stark. While Baddourah has run his campaign solely on the interests of businesses, I am committed to a more balanced approach that protects neighborhoods while growing our businesses and keeping them prosperous. The result of Baddourah’s narrowly focused campaign would block progress for our City and put at risk the capacity of the City to fully fund essential services like law enforcement. He hasn’t answered how he would replace lost revenue. And he hasn’t said what services should be cut.

My focus on protecting our City’s essential services like public safety and neighborhood protection is highlighted by the endorsement of our campaign by local leaders such as Sheriff Leon Lott and current District 3 City Council Representative Dr. Belinda Gergel. I want to maintain the City’s capacity to help District 3 residents, small businesses, and our economy. And know that I will represent your interests and all other important issues in our District to continue to strengthen our great city! I would be honored to represent District 3 and to carry forward the important priorities of our community that are the backbone of our campaign:

  • Protecting our Neighborhoods
  • Public Safety and Crime Reduction
  • Environmental Protection and Sustainability Programs
  • Economic and Local Business Development
  • Development of our Cultural and Arts Communities
  • Improved Public Transportation
  • Important Historic Preservation
  • Meeting the Needs of District 3 and Columbia Residents!

I am putting together a plan of action to win on April 17. But I need your help to make it possible. Would you support my candidacy by making a donation NOW to support this larger effort? Your gift of $1000, $500, $250, $100, $50 or whatever you choose or are able to give (donations of any size are greatly appreciated and will be well used), would help me communicate and get out supporters for the run-off election.

In order to help, you can give online here or mail your donations to:

Coble for Council
PO Box 50524
Columbia, SC 29250

Our city is a breathing, vibrant and growing community. Every new generation of Columbia has been tasked with the job of re-inventing our community anew. This is the work before us. And with your help now, we will make this new vision a reality.

I haven’t received anything from Moe Baddourah. I need to give him a call and make sure I’m on his email list…

Three times in a week, I’m mistaken for Mike

It happened two more times last night.

Mike Miller

After dropping by the victory party Cameron Runyan was having at 701 Whaley, I went to Kit Smith’s house to see what was happening with Daniel Coble. I went in wondering whether things were going well — and knowing that if they weren’t, people would feel somewhat constrained with a blogger in their midst. It only took a moment to find out that Daniel was a close second in a runoff, and that the campaign felt good about that — better than if they had been in a runoff with Jenny Isgett.

As I was absorbing that, a nice lady came up to me and started telling me that while she hadn’t followed me all that closely when I was at the newspaper, she had really come to appreciate my work, and she really, truly appreciated that I had decided to throw in my lot with the Coble campaign, and then she gave me a big hug. As I was trying figure this out, and muttering, “But I’m not… that is, I’m neutral… I mean…,” Bud Ferillo explained that I was there as a blogger. At which point the lady stepped back and looked at me and realized who I was.

Which was not Mike Miller.

A very short while later, I was in another room discussing the state of the world with Joel Smith, and a man came up to me and said, “Hi, you’re Mike Miller. I’m…,” at which point I interrupted to say, “No, I’m not.”

Not Mike Miller.

I told you previously about how this happened over at Belinda Gergel’s house the day she and Mike and Steve Morrison endorsed Daniel.

I don’t know what it is (it’s not like Mike looks like THIS guy), but I can almost sorta kinda see it. And I have this vague memory of this mistake having happened once or twice, long ago, when we worked at the paper together. Something about general similarity in height and weight and maybe head shape, and now hair color. We’re both from the Pee Dee (he’s from Dillon;  I’m from Bennettsville), but I don’t think that’s it.

Most of the folks at that gathering had on Daniel Coble stickers. I felt like I needed my own sticker, in the same yellow-and-black motif that Rob Barge designed for him, saying “I’m not Mike Miller.” But I don’t know if it would do any good…

I should have known it would be Moe

If there’s one thing an INTP should know, it’s to go with his gut.

Which I did not do yesterday.

From the start of the campaign for the District 3 seat on Columbia City Council, I had thought Moe Baddourah was the guy to beat. Yes, partly that was because of all the yard signs. Months ago (way early in terms of conventional yard sign theory), I saw about 10 on one block of Wheat Street. Everywhere you went in the district: “Moe!”

Beyond that, there was his convincing assurance that he had learned a lot from Seth Rose in losing to him two years ago, and was applying the lessons.

So until very recently, I was sure that it would be Moe and someone else in a runoff. Either Daniel Coble or Jenny Isgett.

But then, in the last days of the campaign, I heard that there were polling data out there indicating that Jenny Isgett would come in either first or second, with Daniel Coble being in a runoff with her. It was counterintuitive, but then I thought, “Hey, we’re talking small number of voters here, so tiny fluctuations can make a difference and overwhelm the factors that you’re seeing out there.” That caused me to overthink what I was seeing. I started thinking, “Moe peaked too soon.” (Of course, I was aware that with such a small number of voters, even the best polling data could be negated by relatively small shifts on Election Day — which was why I hedged my prediction.)

Well, we saw what happened. My gut was right all along.

As it usually is. I should have known better than to be so influenced by one hearsay data point.

Always trust the gut, without overwhelming evidence to the contrary…

Anyway, now it’s Moe and Daniel in a tight runoff. Right now, either of them could win. My gut is telling me that Coble should be able to win over more Isgett voters than Baddourah, but it’s also telling me it isn’t sure yet. It’s still collecting cosmic waves, or whatever. And it has fresh reason not to count Moe out.

When it’s sure, I may tell you. Then again, I may not. This latest experience is reminding my why I avoided making predictions for so many years.

Runyan calls turnout ‘extremely low’

This came in from Cameron Runyan while I was at lunch:

Friends —

I wanted to give you a quick Election Day update from the field.

We’re just under halfway through voting and our poll greeters report that turnout is EXTREMELY LOW across the city. I’ve been out speaking with voters at voting locations all day and have observed the same thing.

What does that mean? It means that your vote in today’s Columbia City Council At-Large election could make the difference.

So if you haven’t voted yet, please be sure to do so before polls close at 7 p.m. There is too much at stake for the future of our great city to not vote today.

And please share this message with your family, friends and neighbors and encourage them to vote Cameron Runyan for City Council in today’s election.


If you need a ride to vote, please call  803-348-4571 . Someone will pick you up and take you to the polls. If you’re not sure where to vote, you can find out here.

After voting ends at 7 p.m. this evening, please stop by 701 Whaley Street for our Election Night Celebration. We’ll have the election results as they come in.

As always, I thank you for your support, your friendship and all you are doing to help me build a better Columbia.

In service,

Cameron Runyan

For my readers who live in Columbia: Have you voted? And what was it like at your precinct?

Here’s what’s going to happen today

Since I’m not endorsing anybody in this Columbia city election, I need to have something to say about it. So I’ll do the most indiscreet, foolish thing anyone can do — make predictions.

Here’s what’s going to happen:

  • Brian DeQuincey Newman will be re-elected in District 2.
  • Cameron Runyan will be elected to the at-large seat, possibly even without a runoff (although it’s extra hard to make a prediction like that with turnout as low as it appears to be).
  • Daniel Coble will be in a runoff with Jenny Isgett in District 3. The runoff will break roughly along standard Coble/Gergel/Shandonista vs. Finlay/Rickenmann/Tomlin lines (except for Shandonista women who just vote for a woman), offering a re-run of the battle four years ago between Belinda Gergel and Brian Boyer.

And yeah, the only one I’m going out on a limb on is District 3. For all I know, Moe Baddourah could be the eventual winner. But I don’t think so.

All of it is hard to call because turnout is so light, making small fluctuations mean more than they otherwise would. I was talking thismorning with Sam Davis, who mentioned how light voting was so far. I said that was to be expected, and he didn’t agree. But he offered a possible explanation for it that would be good for him and the other incumbents — that city voters are pleased with the current direction of the council.

Maybe. We’ll see.

The Coble endorsements, at the Gergel home

Belinda Gergel is at the lectern, with Daniel Coble to her right. That's Mike Miller in the khaki suit to your right, and behind him to his right is Kathryn Fenner. Steve Morrison is the tall guy in the dark suit at the back, and Walid Hakim is on the viewer's far left, with the walking stick.

OK, so I made it over to Chez Gergel for the announcement previously mentioned. Not much new to report, except to say that this was a major boost for Daniel Coble. If next Tuesday’s voting follows a logical course, he should at least make it into a runoff now.

In addition to the aforementioned big endorsements, Kit Smith was there (with a new grandchild). So was our own Kathryn Fenner, and Walid Hakim, last seen being an unleader of the Occupy Columbia movement. And of course Bud and Julia Ferillo.

There was such a frenzy of endorsing going on that I almost got swept up in it, through no fault of my own. A nice lady wearing a Coble sticker came up to me while I was speaking to Walid, and, gesturing with a camera, said she would need me in a moment. I paused to say “What for?” She said she needed my picture with Daniel. I explained that unlike all the neighborhood folk there, I was not there to endorse Daniel, but to cover the event. I was pretty emphatic about it, since Daniel had just taken out an ad on the blog, and I didn’t want anyone to get confused and think that meant I was on board.

The lady seemed surprised at my words. I found out why a few minutes later. She thought I was Mike Miller. This has happened before, back  in our newsroom days. Yes, I sort of generally look vaguely like Mike, particularly if our hair is cut the same and I’m wearing my wirerims (which you seldom see, although that’s what I was wearing in that Ariail caricature I referred to recently). And Mike had been wearing a khaki suit during the formal announcement, but had taken it off, and I had on a khaki suit coat.


Later in the day, I may post video. Now, to lunch…

Gergel, Miller to endorse Coble for council

And maybe Steve Morrison, too.

This morning I got a press release from Daniel Coble saying that there will be “a very special announcement” at the home of outgoing Councilwoman Belinda Gergel late this morning.

“Also making a important announcements will be City Council candidate Mike Miller and former mayoral candidate Steve Morrison,” the release went on.

It’s fairly easy to read between the lines of that, but I don’t have to. I am reliably informed (not by any of the principals; this is second-hand) that Mike is dropping out and will endorse Daniel, as will Belinda. No word yet on Steve’s role, but it would be surprising if he’s not there to endorse young Mr. Coble as well.

I’m going to try to drop by, but might not be able to get away then. If not, at least you read it here first…

City Council election takes to the airwaves

It’s last-minute blitz time.

I had just finished posting about Cameron Runyan being endorsed by The State when I opened my IN box again and found that he now has a TV ad, which you can see above.

This has been a low-spending city election up to now. Correct me if y’all have seen something I have not, but I’m pretty sure this is the first instance in this cycle of anyone resorting to TV.

Sheriff Lott endorses Coble in District 3 contest

I’m kind of thinking this isn’t going to go over all that well, given the way some of y’all reacted to the news that my “twin” had endorsed Cameron Runyan, but I pass on this statement from the Coble campaign anyway:

“Daniel Coble is the one candidate in the race for City Council in District 3 who understands what it takes to fight crime and make our community safe,” said Sheriff Leon Lott in a statement released Monday by the Coble campaign.

The Democratic Richland County Sheriff, first elected in 1998, said “Everycandidate talks about crime prevention but only Daniel Coble has put forward a specific plan to make it happen, and that includes replacing the city’s aging police department vehicle fleet, upgrading communication equipment, putting more officers on the street, targeting gangs and installing more cameras in high crime areas. Those things will make real difference.”
“In short, Coble has the best grasp of aggressively fighting crime in Columbia and that is why I have made this endorsement. If crime is your issue, Daniel is the candidate to vote for next Tuesday.”

Michael Miller, candidate for the District 3 seat on Columbia City Council

Mike Miller left The State in 2003, six years before I did. Since then, he’s been “exploring the calmer side of life.”

He’s been exploring it from the sedate and homey Rosewood neighborhood where he lives. It was at a fixture of the neighborhood, Rosewood Market and Deli, that we met recently to discuss his candidacy for the District 3 seat on Columbia City Council. He stops in there regularly for coffee in the morning. It was a regular lunch spot for me when I worked at the paper, and I still stop in there for some beans and rice and falafels now and then.

This was only the second time I had seen Mike since he had left the paper. The first had been at this event just over a year ago — the kickoff of the “One Book” project led by Belinda Gergel, whom Mike is seeking to replace on city council. I say that to satisfy the curiosity of those who wonder whether I  have sufficient detachment in writing about a former colleague. Mike and I were never close, and our work never overlapped, even when I was in the newsroom — he wrote about popular music and nightlife in Columbia (as his successor Otis Taylor does now), while I supervised reporters covering political news. I knew him the way I knew The State‘s movie critic, back when it had one.

So anyway, to get back to the subject at hand, Mike is running for the District 3 seat. He’s the only one of the four candidates who  lives in Rosewood. That makes him, in Kevin Fisher’s estimation, the “beer-and-chips” candidate, opposing the “wine-and-cheese crowd” of Shandon. I failed to ask Mike about that, but I get the impression he’d be comfortable in that role.

Mike, whom I never knew was that into politics back in the day, has been edging up to it for some time now. He got involved in the Gergel campaign four years ago, after which he says the councilwoman encouraged him to serve on some city committees. For instance, he later served on Mayor Steve Benjamin’s transition committee on the arts and historic preservation.

Probably most relevant to his candidacy is his service as vice president of the Rosewood Community Council. Through the council he has worked to improve parks in the area, and set up community crime watches.

Looking at the city as a whole, he complains that “We never really think big or act big.” He points to how long it’s been since any kind of community improvement on the scale of relocating the railroad tracks to help the Vista develop. With regard to big projects that the city is considering now — the Bull Street redevelopment, the Assembly Street plan, the Innovista — he sees a need for more long-range planning, since such things “have to be done in phases.”

He does see the city starting to “get over inertia” and move forward on some things, which is one reason why “the timing is kind of right to be on city council.”

He acknowledges that there are a lot of things city residents would like to have, but haven’t identified a good way to pay for. He supports the penny sales tax increase, “with the stipulation that the money go to support the buses.” He criticized the city for having taken over the bus system without a clear plan to pay for it after the cash from SCANA ran out. He used to ride the bus from Shandon the Main Street when he visited his grandparents as a kid (Mike grew up in Dillon), and indicates he’d like kids in the future to have such a resource in the future. He wants the service to be better than it is now. He sees restored “dollar-a-ride” trolleys in the center city as part of the transit solution.

Mike is spending less than other candidates. He hates yard signs, he says, although he’s been persuaded  to shell out for a few. Actually, I think they’re probably the best-looking ones in this campaign (see below). They were designed by another former colleague from The State, design guru Rob Barge. Here’s what Mike has to say about them on Facebook:

Sheesh, political yard signs, what are you gonna do? Everybody said I had to have them, so I got ’em. And you can have one, too. Send me an email at, and I’ll deliver.

But here’s the thing. Not only will I deliver, I’ll also come and pick up the sign and recycle it after the election. In fact, I pledge to recycle all my yard signs. I even contacted the city’s office of Planning and Development Services, which issues regulations regarding the placement of political signs, and asked is there was a plan in place for the recycling of these signs. I was told there were no official guidelines for yard-sign recycling, but it was something that should definitely be considered.

So I encourage all my fellow candidates to recycle their signs after the election, and I hope everyone will encourage the city to put a plan in place that calls for the appropriate recycling of political yard signs…

He says he’s “trying to knock on some doors,” but doesn’t seem to be approaching the task quite as ambitiously as opponents Daniel Coble and Moe Baddourah. He’s also frequenting civic meetings.

While he wants to see the city embrace ambitious changes, there are some changes he’d like to see impeded. He finds it incredible, for instance, that city council’s initial vote to say yes to a downtown Walmart was unanimous, 7-0. “You mean nobody raised their hand?” He indicates he would have raised questions, partly because he considers Walmart to have a history of being a “poor corporate citizen,” but also because of the environmental questions particular to the old ballpark location.

Daniel Coble, candidate for the District 3 seat on Columbia City Council

Daniel Coble, at Yesterday's one recent evening.

Finally, I’m getting down to writing about the city council races that are just a couple of weeks away (April 3). I’ll do my best to make up for lost time…

I’ll start with Daniel Coble, one of four candidates seeking the District 3 race being vacated by Belinda Gergel. Remember that election? It was like a battle of titans, between Belinda the historic preservationist and Brian Boyer, the young brother-in-law of Don Tomlin. Each campaign spent something in the six-figure range — TV ads, the whole works. It sucked up all the available oxygen to where hardly anyone noticed the at-large election going on at the same time (Daniel Rickenmann held off a challenge from Cameron Runyan).

This election is a lot more low-key — retail, door-to-door campaigning and yard signs. As for the first of our four candidates:

There are two things everyone seems to know about Daniel Coble: He’s the son of ex-Mayor Bob, and he’s 24 years old. The law student says his parents are very supportive of his candidacy, although his mother did complain that she just got out of politics two years ago, and now they’re pulling her back in.

When I first talked with Daniel about his candidacy back in the fall, after a Community Relations Council meeting (we both serve on the council) he said he was planning “a Seth Rose campaign,” which in part means tirelessly walking the district and knocking on doors. I caught up with him last week to see how it’s gone since then, and he told me he’d already hit every house once, and was starting over.

I asked him who he thought was his strongest opposition, and he named restaurateur Moe Baddourah, and not just because his “MOE!” yard signs so dominate the landscape. Daniel says he thinks Moe has the Republican vote behind him — which may not be a majority in that district, but could be enough of a plurality to lead in a four-way contest. (Yes, this is a non-partisan election, thank God. But I didn’t bring up party — Daniel did. And I have no idea whether that assessment is correct.)

Daniel has a lot of thoughts on a lot of issues, but as we saw at the recent forum at 701 Whaley, he stands out from the crowd on just one: his adamant support for a penny sales tax increase to pay for the bus system and other local transportation needs. I mentioned to him that some other candidates seemed ambivalent on the issue, but he said “You’re either for it or you’re not. If you’re both ways, it won’t work.” Getting such a referendum passed (and at this point it remains to be seen whether the county council will even put it on the ballot again) is enough of an uphill fight, he suggests, without supporters backing it as strongly as they can.

There’s one other issue he’s really adamant on, one that has been important to the current incumbent: Historic preservation. He supports a compromise passed by city council affecting the Hollywood/Rose Hill neighborhood that would require anyone wanting to tear down or drastically change the appearance of a home more than 50 years old to get a special exemption. He says he would strongly oppose any effort to roll back that decision.

A third issue separates him and some of his opponents: He would not immediately stop the practice of spending about 4 percent of water and sewer revenues on general fund items. He says to stop doing it immediately would mean catastrophic cuts for the police and fire departments. But he would favor gradually weaning the general budget off of that revenue source.

His says his “jobs plan” is “to make Columbia Famously Green,” and to work to build the knowledge economy, through such initiatives as Innovista and EngenuitySC.

He calls being a city councilman “a 24/7 job,” and promises to be available for constituent service around the clock. (When I noted that his being a young, single, law student might make that easier for him than for some, he objected that he does have a girlfriend. I pointed out that “compared to me, you’re single.”)

He promises not only to work hard, but to stay current on the issues. “If I don’t know it, call me out on it and I’ll learn.”

I spoke to him again by phone a few minutes ago to clear up a couple of points, and he was out in this 86-degree weather (oh no, there’s no such thing as global warming) walking the district…

Sheriff endorses Runyan for council

First, a heads-up — I’ve got interviews set with several of the candidates for city council over the next few days, so watch this space. The election is three weeks from tomorrow.

Meanwhile, here’s a item from Cameron Runyan that came in today:


COLUMBIA, S.C. — Columbia City Council at-large candidate Cameron Runyan has received the support of Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott in the at-large election on the April 3 ballot.

“I know that Cameron will lead the fight to improve public safety for all of Columbia,” Lott said. “I’m encouraging voters across Columbia to join me in supporting him for City Council in the April 3 election.”

Added Lott, “Cameron recently went above and beyond to complete the Columbia Police Department’s Citizens Police Academy. I applaud him for making a deep commitment to gaining the knowledge and experience necessary to understand the needs of our law enforcement officers.”

The Citizens Police Academy is a 10-week program that gives residents a first-hand look at law enforcement in Columbia.

“Cameron also understands the importance of creative community policing in our city and the need for community involvement,” said Lott. “He has made a commitment to giving our first responders the technology and resources they need to keep our community safe. And I know that on council his top priority will be working with me and Chief Scott to crack down on crime.”

Runyan thanked Lott for his endorsement and noted the Sheriff’s long record of accomplishment.

“Sheriff Lott is an incredible leader who has created a world-class sheriff’s department and has worked tirelessly to keep our city and county safe,” Runyan said. “I thank him for his dedication to improving public safety and I would be honored to have the opportunity to work closely with him as a member of City Council.”


By the way, I should stress that it’s Leon Lott who is endorsing Cameron, not me. Seeing as how Leon is my twin and all, I just want to avoid any confusion…

But seriously, folks — I met Cameron’s opponent Robert Bolchoz (also seeking the at-large seat is Joe Azar) at Rotary today and got his card. I hope to be speaking with him soon, along with the others…

SRO crowd turns out for council forum

The candidates were hard to see, but the sound quality was good.

A city council candidate forum at 701 Whaley drew a standing-room-only crowd.

The event, sponsored by Rosewood Community CouncilSustainable Midlands and the Rosewood Merchants Association, featured all of the candidates for both the at-large seat being vacated by Daniel Rickenmann and the District 3 seat currently held by Belinda Gergel.

That format, with seven candidates not all running for the same job, was a bit unwieldy. And the staging — with the candidates sitting in shadow with bright pools of superfluous light to either side of them — was ideal for making photographers want to pull their hair out. But dim as it was, it was the first look I’d had at both of these lineups, and I found it useful, as I expect the audience did.

You can read an account of the forum — “debate” would be misleading — at

Here are a few additional comments of my own:

As Carolyn indicated in her story, the sharpest disagreement — really, the only disagreement — was over Richland County sales tax increase that is the only plan this community has come up with for paying for bus service for the Midlands. Which tells you where I stand, as if you didn’t know already. Since a city without public transit might as well go out of business.

The candidates with the best answers on that were Cameron Runyan (running for the at-large seat) and Daniel Coble (running in District 3). Both offered passionate, even vehement, support for the sales tax increase as essential to the community going forward. Beyond those two there was a second group (Jenny Isgett, Mike Miller — both District 3 candidates) who were sorta kinda for it, but with caveats. Then there were Joe Azar and Robert Bolchoz (both running at-large), who expressed the strongest skepticism for the plan. (For some reason, I don’t have what Moe Baddourah — the other District 3 candidate — said on the issue in my notes. Blame me for that, not him.)

Beyond that, I have scattered impressions. There was general agreement, and not only from small businessmen Baddourah and Azar, that the city makes it too hard to do business. When the candidates were asked about Famously Hot (yay, ADCO!), Mike Miller said his favorite part of the campaign was the “surprisingly cool” — which he said was accurate (as former music writer at The State, Mike was the only one on the panel who has actually been a professional arbiter of what is cool). Jenny Isgett diagnosed the city as suffering from ADD, with the symptoms being the inability to pick priorities and see them through.

I look forward to learning more about what differences exist between these candidates and sharing what I find with y’all. I also need to see what’s happening, if anything, in the 2nd District, where Nammu Muhammad is challenging Brian DeQuincey Newman.

But this was a start — actually, a belated one. The election is just under a month away — April 3.