COLUMBIA, SC — Former Richland County deputy and long-shot mayoral candidate Larry Sypolt withdrew Monday from Columbias mayoral campaign and threw his support to Mayor Steve Benjamin.
I think its a disservice to the community for Steve and I to run against each other, Sypolt said in front of police headquarters in downtown Columbia, with Benjamin at his side.
Sypolt dropped out eight days before the Nov. 5 election after acknowledging that he has come to agree with Benjamin on public safety and other issues as well as appreciating the incumbents character.
Benjamin immediately named Sypolt, 36, as chairman of a mayoral public safety task force that Benjamin has yet to fully constitute.
Benjamin said the citizens group he is putting together will study Five Points safety and gang violence among other safety issues. He expects to announce other task force members later this week.
Benjamin thanked Sypolt for his support and for running a clean mayoral campaign.
Sypolt said he decided to drop out Sunday night after a mayoral forum in north Columbia during which he and Benjamin didnt differ on major issues. The former Richland County deputy said he began to swing toward Benjamin weeks ago when the incumbent invited Sypolt to a prayer breakfast. They did not discuss politics. I learned about the mayors character, Sypolt said.
Thats when Benjamin began to emerge as something other than a politician and mayoral rival, Sypolt said during the news conference.
Sypolt, now a businessman in Forest Acres, said hes unsure whether he will return to law enforcement. Benjamin, under questioning by a reporter, said he believes Sypolt has the law enforcement experience to qualify to be Columbias police chief, a position that has remained unfilled for six months.
Sypolt announced his first bid for public office in April with supporter Vicki Strange at his side.
Strange whose teenage son was nearly beaten to death in Five Points said Monday she was disappointed in Sypolts withdrawal but will cast her vote next month for him, since ballots already have been prepared.
Im not going to vote for the lesser of two evils, Strange said of Benjamin and Councilman Moe Baddourah, the remaining challenger.
Baddourah tweaked Benjamin for choosing police headquarters for the endorsement.
It sends the wrong message about our priorities to hold a campaign press conference at the Police Department while failing to address our very basic public safety challenges, Baddourah said in a statement. He was referring to filling the police chiefs position, which Baddourah advocates in nearly every speech.
Sypolt joined Baddourah recently in calling for hiring a chief even if misconduct investigations are incomplete. Hiring a chief is a decision of the city manager, but managers usually consult with council before filling such a high-profile position.
City manager Teresa Wilson and some council members have said the job is unlikely to attract top candidates while the cloud of a criminal investigations looms.
The 5th Circuit Solicitors Office, which is overseeing the case, has not disclosed any findings or when a decision is to be announced.