Young blood vs. veteran: There’s tension in the Sam Davis-Chris Sullivan council race

Incumbent Sam Davis, left, Christopher Sullivan Sr.
Incumbent Sam Davis, left, Christopher Sullivan Sr.

Citywide issues are looming large in the campaign to decide who will represent the northern part of Columbia, which long has seen itself as an overlooked part of town, on City Council.

Political activist Chris Sullivan, 27, is taking on Sam Davis, City Council’s longest-serving member, who has held the District 1 seat for nearly 20 years.

Davis is seeking a sixth, four-year term in the Nov. 7 election. He has had opposition only once before, in 2013, since winning a four-way initial race for the seat in 1998.

“I committed to contributing as much as I can to the growth and property of Columbia,” Davis said, “Not just district issues, but citywide.

“There are some indications that we’re (going) in the right direction in Columbia,” Davis said. “There is some unfinished business ... and we’re going to see it through.”

Sullivan, who has a public relations business, said Davis, 69, has had his chance.

Davis said he supports continuing the streetscaping and storefront upgrades along North Main Street and Farrow Road. He cites new housing in North Columbia as a testament to its progress.

Davis also said his support of a 2016 tougher city law to make landlords more responsible for keeping properties in better shape is a major accomplishment. “I spent a lot of capital last year in terms of revising our code enforcement policies,” he said of City Hall moving faster to demolish dilapidated homes.

“I had to run against Sam Davis,” said Sullivan, who is 42 years younger than the incumbent. “He’s been in office 20 years, and a lot of the issues he ran on in the first campaign are still not fixed.”

Davis is vulnerable, Sullivan said, for:

▪  His late decision to allow voters to decide whether the capital city should be run by a mayor or a city manager. (They decided on a city manager.)

▪  His vote to support an agreement with the BullStreet developer that city attorneys said wasn’t a good deal for the city.

▪  His vote to spend $30 million in taxpayer money to build the minor league baseball stadium on the BullStreet property.

“The community had to force him to let (strong-mayor referendum) get on the ballot,” Sullivan said. Davis, after opposing a referendum, cast council’s deciding vote to let voters in 2013 decide for themselves.

Davis voted with Mayor Steve Benjamin to support contracts with Greenville developer Bob Hughes to build homes and businesses on the 181-acre BullStreet property in the city center.

Sullivan says the decisions were made too quickly, without sufficient transparency and against the advice of city attorneys, who cautioned council to strengthen the city’s control of the contracts.

Sullivan said he would have voted against spending public money to build the stadium.

He also said he can do better to help attract economic development and wants to improve the Columbia Police Department, which has 73 vacant law enforcement jobs.

The challenger said he’s been active in social justice since childhood and then politics, as an adult. He was present with then-Charleston Mayor Joe Riley a rally against the Confederate flag flying atop the State House.

Sullivan lost a 2012 race against House District 77 incumbent Rep. Joe McEachern. He attributed his loss largely to not raising enough money. This time, Sullivan said, he has $45,000 in commitments. His campaign is active on social media, and TV ads are to start in mid-October and run until Election Day.

Sullivan has hired Steve Fooshe as campaign manager. Fooshe has ties to Rep. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland. Finlay is a former District 4 councilman who was defeated by Benjamin in the 2010 mayoral race. Sullivan said he was a volunteer recruiter for Finlay in his most recent re-election campaign. Finlay, whose father once was mayor of Columbia, attended Sullivan’s campaign kickoff party in August.

Asked how he will overcome Sullivan’s young, energetic campaign, Davis said, “I’ll do what I always do, run hard and run scared.”

District 1 encompasses north Columbia and areas off Broad River Road, stretching to the Harbison Boulevard commercial strip.

Election Day changes

Here’s a summary of differences that all Columbia voters will encounter on Nov. 7 compared to the city election in 2015.

▪  14 more voting machines.

▪  110 more poll workers at 75 precints, two more precincts than in 2015.

▪  4 more computer technicians assigned to fixing glitches in voting machines.

▪  4,508 more registered voters.

▪  11 new or combined locations for precincts, largely because some precincts have too few voters to merit opening polling sites. Another factor is that some former locations do not meet accessibility standards for disabled voters.

TO CHECK WHERE YOU VOTE AND WHICH COUNCIL DISTRICT YOU LIVE IN: Go online at scvotes.org and click on Check My Voter Registration on the right of the screen

SOURCE: Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office