Mayor Steve Benjamin is revisiting the themes that got him elected Columbia’s first African-American mayor three years ago — inclusiveness and optimism.
Benjamin, 43, announced Monday that he is seeking a second term as a part-time mayor and that he will push to convert Columbia’s municipal government into a full-time, strong mayor form.
“With one city, one spirit ... there’s no limit to what we can achieve,” Benjamin said at the doorstep of Mast General, a store that two years ago became a symbol of Main Street revitalization. “Give me the opportunity to complete what we have begun.”
His 2010 campaign message centered on “one Columbia,” a theme that cut across economic, neighborhood and racial lines.
“Columbia is dreaming big, thinking big and acting big,” Benjamin said, adding, “There are great things we have yet to do ... and we’re just getting started.”
He cited successes that have come to the metropolitan Columbia area during his first term: thousands of jobs, $1 billion in business investment, including along Main, decreasing crime rates and larger budgets for public safety.
Given that his is one of seven votes on City Council, Benjamin was careful not to stake sole claim for successes.
“We have made a great deal of progress. We’ve increased transparency, improved efficiency. ... We’ve generated a budget for three straight years.” He used the word “we” at least seven times during a 15-minute news conference.
“All around us good things are happening. Change is taking place,” he said. “No one can charge us with not thinking big and acting big.”
Under questioning, Benjamin said he will call for another council vote on changing Columbia from a city government run by an appointed manager to one run by a strong mayor, as it is in Charleston where the mayor is the chief administrative officer. Benjamin left open the prospect that he might seek that vote from council before Election Day, which, this year for the first time, is in November.
“If council chooses not to (change the form of government), then we’ll take it to the people,” he said, referring to the option of a public referendum.
A vote in May of last year to hold a referendum failed by one vote. Two new members have joined the council since then, but the outcome remains unclear. Council members Tameika Isaac Devine and Sam Davis voted “no.”
Benjamin did not outline a specific agenda of what he hopes to accomplish during a second term.
First-term Councilman Moe Baddourah announced earlier this spring that he is opposing Benjamin. In addition, Larry Sypolt, a former FBI analyst, also is challenging Benjamin.
The election — the first since council moved Election Day from the city’s traditional time in April to November in odd-number years — is set for Nov. 5.
Benjamin will hold a campaign kickoff event open to the public Monday at the Tapps Art Center on Main.