August 22, 2014

Political sign raises eyebrows in West Columbia

A political sign put up in yards Friday by foes of West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens is raising eyebrows.

A political sign put up in yards Friday by foes of West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens is raising eyebrows.

Owens is pictured between President Barack Obama and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin with a message saying, “Want to have ONE voice controlling our government? Me neither. Vote No! to strong mayor. Unite our city.”

It’s the brainchild of West Columbia United, the group opposed to a measure at a Sept. 30 referendum that would put Owens back in charge at City Hall.

The sign links the mayor to those who exemplify “failed leadership,” said Bruce Brutschy, co-chairman of the group.

Owens is upset with the mix of images.

It’s “improper and unseemly” to imply the president and the leader of West Columbia’s largest neighbor are involved in a local dispute, he said.

Obama and Benjamin are Democrats while Owens has been elected to Lexington County Council as a Republican but says he is a political independent.

Benjamin is a strong-mayor advocate, but Columbia voters denied him that power in a December referendum.

The president and Benjamin are African-Americans, while Owens is white. The mayor has several local African-American community leaders supporting him in the upcoming showdown on who will be in control at City Hall.

“It has nothing to do with race,” Brutschy said of the images. “It points to the larger scene to what’s wrong with politically operated government.”

The group argues that Owens will rely on patronage if he controls the daily operation of City Hall and is put back in charge of council agendas.

City Councilman Boyd Jones, an Owens foe who is the only African-American among city leaders, declined comment on the sign.

Meanwhile, Brutschy said Owens’ foes are being advised not to heckle the mayor.

The warning comes after an extensive exchange of insults Thursday between Owens and Councilman Tem Miles during a press conference.

One of the anti-Owens signs is in Miles’ front yard.

“West Columbia is not at their best when their officials are bickering,” Brutschy said. “There’s fault on both sides.”

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