Contrast key in Lexington mayor contest

tflach@thestate.comSeptember 29, 2013 

— The mayor’s race in Lexington is a contrast in style and messages.

It’s a choice between two town leaders for the job leading the second-largest municipality in the Columbia area.

The choices are:

• Incumbent Randy Halfacre, a player in regional political and business circles who wants to make sure key projects starting under his watch are done

• Councilman Steve MacDougall, who offers a time-for-change message with few specifics

It’s the only contest on the Nov. 5 ballot in the community of 18,000 residents.

Three Town Council members – Hazel Livingston, Kathy Maness and Ted Stambolitis – are re-elected automatically, since they have no opposition.

Different themes

Although alike in some respects, Halfacre and MacDougall bring different approaches to the role of top town leader.

• Traffic again is the top concern for Halfacre, but this time he is touting solutions instead of seeking ways to alleviate congestion.

Improvements at three intersections downtown should be finished by spring, easing bottlenecks on Columbia Avenue (U.S. 378), the town’s main commercial thoroughfare.

But Halfacre and other town leaders are banking on a new network of computerized signals that adapt to traffic flow – a trendsetter for South Carolina – to provide significant relief. Supporters also promote it as an fuel saver likely mean fewer fender-benders.

Plans call for the $4.5 million network to be in place by spring 2015.

“A few years ago, we were at the back end of traffic mitigation,” Halfacre said. “Now we’re at the front end.”

He is eager to proceed with Town Hall’s first attempt at urban redevelopment by developing a plaza surrounded by new retailers to lure shoppers downtown.

A regional deal for wastewater disposal sets the stage for growth in and around town without interruption for the next 30 years. he said.

All those assure the town is “well-entrenched” to accommodate growth, he said.

Halfacre stresses partnership instead of conflict with community, political and business interests.

Doing that builds trust and respect so “ you can move the ball forward,” he said.

Experience matters more than promise, Halfacre added. “We don’t need a course adjustment.”

Halfacre, 65, is chief executive officer of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce. Before becoming mayor in 2004, he was a town councilman for 10 years.

•  MacDougall isn’t fazed at being a political rookie trying to unseat a well-connected political leader.

The main issue is “the tone of leadership,” he says.

MacDougall largely supports the traffic relief, downtown revival and civic beautification plans that Halfacre favors, but says that’s not enough.

“I want to restore pride in Lexington,” he said.

Too many Midlands residents incorrectly equate the steadily growing town with problems like narcotics laboratories common in the rural southern and western areas of Lexington County, he said.

“They don’t know the distinction,” he said. “They think about Lexington in ways that are not God’s country as I know it is.”

But he offers no clue on how he would accomplish that image change, saying only he will work toward a more positive reputation for the community.

Getting that done requires a fresh outlook, he said.

“If you’re going to change something, it has to be from the top down,” MacDougall said.

But don’t expect to see a shakeup at Town Hall, he said. “We have an A+ staff.”

MacDougall, 50, is operations director at Hudson’s Smokehouse restaurant. He has been a councilman for two years.

X factor

The mayor’s race may be an unofficial referendum on ethics, created by another town leader not on the ballot.

Both Halfacre and MacDougall decried the black eye lingering from Councilman Danny Frazier’s effort to promote Internet sweepstakes parlors.

Frazier apologized, but refused demands from other town leaders to quit amid reports of a federal and state investigation into such gambling.

He declined comment on his impact on the mayor’s race. Other town leaders say it could have some effect.

Part of his call for “changing the culture and conversation” is making sure residents understand that incident is an aberration, MacDougall said.

“I want to make sure people understand what I’m doing is right,” he said.

Halfacre separated himself from Frazier, once a political ally now estranged from a mayor he called his mentor, in advocating resignation.

What happened was an unwelcome surprise, Halfacre said.

“No one should expect anyone to be able to control the personal conduct of someone else,” he said.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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