The theme from Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony for three members of Columbia City Council was reconciliation.
“For the good of the city, this council needs to be united,” newly elected citywide councilman Howard Duvall said in an interview as family, friends and supporters surrounded him at City Hall. “I don’t want to have (more) 4-3 votes. If we continue to have 4-3 votes, I’m not doing my job.”
Duvall, the retired director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina, Ed McDowell Jr., a retired minister, and Moe Baddourah, a restaurant owner, took their oaths of office in a packed city council chamber. Their four-year terms begin Jan. 1.
The standing-room-only audience included three former council members, including ex-mayor Bob Coble, at-large councilman Jim Papadea and controversial District 2 councilman E.W. Cromartie in his first public appearance at a city function since his return home in November 2011 after serving time for federal tax evasion.
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In his first, but brief, interview with a reporter since the one-year sentence, Cromartie said he returned to council chambers, where he served for 27 years, because, “This is an opportunity to support McDowell and Duvall.” Asked if he will be active in Columbia political life, especially because of his support for McDowell, Cromartie said with a grin, “I will be content to be low profile. But I’m always concerned about the people of the city of Columbia and the people of District 2.” He declined further comment.
McDowell, like Duvall a first-term councilman, described his role on council and in District 2 as that of becoming a “bridge builder” on the often divided council, which has made major decision by one-vote margins.
Asked if he will continue to use Cromartie as an adviser, as McDowell did during the campaign, the new councilman said, “It’s to our advantage to continue to utilize him ... in an advisory position. (But) I’ve got to create my footprint for myself.”
McDowell said he’s been holding “listening sessions” with constituents since the Nov. 17 runoff election and plans to create a community advisory council to identify problems and guide advocacy for the broad and diverse District 2, which stretches from the St. Andrews area through the city center to Olympia.
Baddourah, who was unopposed for a second term representing politically active District 3 and a challenger to Mayor Steve Benjamin’s second election, pledged cooperation, too.
“During my next four years, I promise you I will do everything I can to represent you ... to put the interest of our city first,” Baddourah said.
Duvall said he and McDowell have met with Benjamin to find areas of collaboration after the mayor endorsed other candidates in the fall election.
A focus of their talk is to possibly shorten and limit council meetings and agendas by eliminating the 2 p.m. work sessions that many working residents find difficult to attend, Duvall said.
McDowell said the tenor of the new council members will be, “We will collaborate and work with staff ... with our mayor to truly make Columbia One Columbia.”
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.