Seven candidates for Columbia City Council agreed Monday night that the city needs to work to improve the safety and security of its neighborhoods, overhaul the current bus system, untangle complicated business licensing practices and make Columbia a lively place that draws young entrepreneurs and workers.
If there was disagreement at the forum at 701 Whaley, it centered on the propriety of a penny increase in the sales tax and how it should be spent. But even then the candidates — four running for the District 3 seat being vacated by retiring councilwoman Belinda Gergel and three running for an at-large seat vacated by retiring councilman Daniel Rickenmann — articulated their positions with an eye toward explaining their larger vision for the city.
That mattered to voters Stan and Elaine Frick, who attended the forum to get a more nuanced view of the candidates’ philosophies before casting their votes on April 3.
“If you noticed, there was very little disagreement among them, so I was interested in getting a feel for the candidates,” Frick said. By the conclusion of the forum, he had decided to cast his vote for Cameron Runyan, a financial advisor and businessman, for the at-large seat and had narrowed his choices in District 3 from four candidates to two.
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Runyan is running against Robert Bolchoz, an attorney and former GOP candidate for S.C. attorney general, and Joseph Azar, a Five Points businessman who has run many times before for council. All three candidates emphasized the need for fiscal accountability, with Bolchoz calling for a “look behind the curtain” before embarking on spending.
Frick liked Runyan’s emphasis on long-range planning; he told the forum, “The defining issue of our time is vision.”
“I think he had a calm and well-thought idea for the future of the city and I agree with him that unless you have a plan of where you are going, you won’t get there,” Frick said of Runyan. As they arrived home, Frick said he and his wife were still discussing the virtues of the District 3 candidates who represent Rosewood, Shandon and other neighborhoods.
Elaine Frick said she would have liked to hear more about transportation issues — “from bikes to planes” — as well as how the candidates would deal with thorny issues like homelessness.
“We talked about the creative class,” she said, “But I would have liked to see more emphasis on that.”
The forum sponsored by Sustainable Midlands, the Rosewood Community Council and Rosewood Merchants Association drew about 150 people. Cynthia Flynn of the League of Women Voters moderated with questions provided by the sponsoring groups.
The only applause of the evening came when all seven said they would not agree to sell Assembly Street property that resides in a flood plain without a long-term plan for dealing with flooding and the future of the Rocky Branch watershed. City Council has placed on hold a plan to sell the old City Stadium to a real estate developer that handles many Wal-Mart projects.
District 3 candidates Jenny Isgett and Daniel Coble both said they are opposed to the Wal-Mart project and at-large candidate Azar said he believed the city should preserve the ball park.
District 3 candidate Moe Baddourah, a restaurateur, said he supports a water-barrel system to capture rain water from roofs of houses and businesses and retention ponds, while Isgett said she believed the city should partner with USC to develop a sound environmental plan.
Asked what they would do to revitalize the Rosewood neighborhood, District 3 candidate Michael Miller urged more code enforcement, crime prevention and an emphasis on developing the eclectic nature of the neighborhood. A former reporter who is active in arts organizations, Miller said he would provide a “street-level perspective” on council.
Isgett said she sees “a lot of potential for an urban village” in the Rosewood area, while Coble, the son of retired mayor Bob Coble and the youngest of the candidates, said he would like to see the neighborhood as richly developed as the Devine Street corridor.
“One investment we need to do is streetscaping,” Coble said.