COLUMBIA, SC — First-term Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah said Tuesday that hes going to oppose Mayor Steve Benjamin in Columbias first fall campaign.
Baddourah, a restaurateur, won the District 3 seat last summer in a runoff when he defeated Daniel Coble, son of former mayor Bob Coble. The race was triggered by incumbent Belinda Gergels decision not to seek a second term and to move to Charleston.
Baddourah, 50, is the first person to announce a challenge to Benjamin, who is seeking a second, four-year term in Columbias first November election. City Council in August voted to move its nonpartisan elections from April of even-number years to the fall of odd-number years. That decision shortened all seven members terms by six months.
In Baddourahs announcement Tuesday, he touted his background as a businessman and fired the first salvo of the mayoral campaign. It has been more than 30 years since Columbia has had a business person as mayor, Baddourah said.
The peoples interests arent well-served when politicians award important jobs to friends or create new government positions for campaign workers, he said in a prepared statement.
Baddourah said Benjamin led a charge to hire new city manager Teresa Wilson, whom Baddourah said is a friend of the mayor.
He also said Benjamin pushed to create jobs for two members of his campaign staff. Though Baddourah did not name them in his statement, his campaign adviser R.J. Shealy said the candidate is referring to Michael Wukela and Sam Johnson, both of whom worked in Benjamins campaign and now work in the mayors office.
Our leaders must be willing to rise above politics as usual and truly focus on the interests of those we were elected to serve, Baddourah said.
His first campaign flier appeared in mailboxes as Baddourah made his announcement.
Benjamin, 43, responded by citing what he called his record of leadership. He proclaimed a budget surplus for three straight years, a 2 percent cut in unemployment, and an investment in law enforcement that he said has reduced crime by more than 12 percent.
Weve led an economic and cultural renaissance on Main Street and throughout the city, Benjamin said in a prepared statement.
The most immediate impact of Columbias new election cycle falls on Benjamin and fellow incumbents Sam Davis, Tameika Isaac Devine and Leona Plaugh, because their terms expire Dec. 31 instead of June 30, 2014.
The terms of the three who were elected last year, including Baddourah, end Dec. 31, 2015 instead of June 30, 2015.
That means Baddourah will hold onto his District 3 seat while he seeks the mayors post.
He cast the only no vote on changes in the election cycle, saying his constituents elected him to a full, four-year term.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.