Michael Wukela joked that he might go to Tuesday night’s Columbia City Council meeting. He wife said he had better not.
It was only the third time in five years Wukela had missed a weekly council meeting. The first time, he had the flu. The second time, his daughter was born.
This time, it was because, as of last Friday, the bug in Mayor Steve Benjamin’s ear for the past five years stepped down from his role at the city.
Wukela has left his job as the mayor’s strategic policy adviser to become executive director of a newly formed statewide advocacy group for progressive issues, Progress South.
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“The past five years working for the mayor’s office and serving the people of Columbia have been absolutely amazing,” Wukela said. “It’s been a privilege and an honor, and walking away from something like that, especially working with a man like Mayor Benjamin and the folks at the city, it’s not easy, and it’s not something I do lightly.”
His mission at Progress South will be to “drive progressive issues to the front of the public debate” in South Carolina, he said. That means pushing statewide conversations and actions on issues such as the gender wage gap, equal rights, women’s health and domestic violence.
“Statistics are one thing, and the statistics in this state are shocking,” Wukela said, pointing out examples such as South Carolina’s reputation for poverty and domestic violence deaths. “But when you couple those statistics with the actual facts of people who are struggling against these challenges every day ... that’s hard to ignore. That’s the kind of conversations we need to be having.”
Wukela was a member of Benjamin’s campaign team during his initial run for mayor in 2010, then became the city’s strategic policy adviser.
Earlier, he worked in journalism in Florence, Darlington and Athens, Ga. Wukela’s brother, Stephen, is the mayor of Florence.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.