African-American voters on Tuesday gave Cameron Runyan an at-large seat on City Council, a move that strengthens the hold Democrats have on city government.
Runyan will replace Daniel Rickenmann, council’s acknowledged fiscal conservative who is active in Republican circles and who lent his name to the campaign of Runyan’s opponent Robert Bolchoz.
The overall impact on City Council of Runyan’s election depends on who wins the April 17 runoff for Council’s District 3 seat. At a minimum, Runyan’s selection gives Democrats at least five of the seven seats. The racial makeup stays at four African-Americans and at least two white members. District 3 runoff contender Moe Baddourah is of Middle Eastern heritage, having been born in Kuwait.
Runyan was endorsed by and received significant support from Mayor Steve Benjamin, whom Runyan backed in 2010. From the day Runyan announced this campaign, Benjamin, Columbia’s first black mayor and the former chairman of the Richland County Democratic Party, has tied himself to Runyan.
Benjamin’s support “gave me a lot of credibility (among black and white voters),” Runyan said Wednesday. “It gave me more than I had.”
A rough analysis of unofficial vote totals shows Runyan, a 35-year-old financial adviser, beat Bolchoz by about 1,100 votes in District 2. That district, stretching from Five Points to north Columbia and the St. Andrews area, has the city’s highest concentration of black voters, 72 percent of those registered.
Runyan also carried heavily African-American District 1, which stretches across the northern tier of the city and reaches to the Harbison area. His margin there was about 900 votes.
Official elections tallies by the Columbia elections commission, are to be released today.
Runyan’s campaign reported Wednesday that he took 90 percent to 100 percent of the vote in 15 precincts, mostly in Districts 1 and 2.
Those districts cover north Columbia and downtown. The other two districts, 3 and 4, are majority white and include east and south Columbia.
Though Runyan accumulated more votes in District 3 – about 2,300 – he beat Bolchoz by roughly 450 votes in that district, where whites comprise 78 percent of registered voters.
Bolchoz, a 48-year-old attorney and former Republican candidate for state Attorney General, received an estimated 1,800 votes in District 3. That district, home to many of the city’s highest-income and best educated voters, is known for high voter turnouts in every election and is becoming more conservative, candidates and political strategists say, particularly with the recent addition of neighborhoods behind the VA hospital.
Runyan and Bolchoz battled to a draw, according to The State newspaper’s analysis, in the more conservative, GOP-leaning District 4 in the balloting, in which candidates run without party labels.
Overall, Runyan ran away with 59 percent of the 8,417 ballots cast.
The analysis by the newspaper uses numbers from the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office, which on Wednesday did not have the data available to parse results by City Council districts, especially those where precinct lines straddle district lines.
Tuesday’s 12 percent voter turnout was substantially lower than in the past three city elections, according to Elections & Voter Registration records:
• The hotly contested 2010 race to fill four of the seven seats on City Council, including the mayor’s, drew a 27 percent turnout.
• The 2008 race for three seats, including the one Runyan unsuccessfully sought that year and won this year, drew 18 percent of registered voters.
• The 2006 race drew 21.5 percent, county elections records show.
“We just performed better than four years ago across the board,” Runyan said Wednesday. “We basically split District 4 with him (Bolchoz), which means we carried all demographic areas of the city.”
Efforts to reach Bolchoz on Tuesday night and Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Runyan said he was especially pleased with being able to turn around the vote in precincts he lost in 2008.
He described, for example, his 2008 tallies from District 4’s Wards 24 and 25 – Heathwood and areas stretching to near Lake Katherine – as “shellackings.” This year, he still lost the precincts, but by much smaller margins.