Mayor Benjamin just took a big new job. Here's why it matters to Columbia

Columbia, SC, Mayor Steve Benjamin.
Columbia, SC, Mayor Steve Benjamin. tdominick@thestate.com

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin just became one of the most high-profile local politicians in the United States.

On May 7, Benjamin was sworn in as the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He'll lead an organization of some 1,400 mayors representing cities with populations of 30,000 or more people.

The Conference of Mayors is a national agenda-setting group whose opinions are regularly voiced to the president of the United States and national lawmakers.

Benjamin succeeds New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, becoming the 76th president of the mayors' group.

Here are three reasons why Benjamin's new role matters to South Carolina's capital city:

1. Raising Columbia's profile.

Columbia isn't necessarily what people expect of a mid-sized, Southern city, Benjamin said.

It has a thriving technology culture, a revitalized downtown, some of the nation's best international business and honors education programs and a diverse population representing more than 200 countries.

Later this year, Benjamin will host a gathering of dozens of mayors from the nation's largest cities, creating an opportunity to show "how special a place Columbia is."

"It will attract not just eyes, but significant capital investment and philanthropic advancement as people look for places to pilot their ideas or missions," Benjamin said.

2. Influencing national policy.

As president of mayors, Benjamin's top three focus issues for the upcoming year are infrastructure, innovation and inclusion.

He sees his leadership role as a chance to advance Columbia leaders' "strong message of fiscal conservatism with some thoughtful, progressive social policy that recognizes you find success through bipartisanship and consensus building. That's something missing in Washington right now."

Benjamin points to the city's recent efforts to boost law enforcement funding while at the same time investing in areas such as parks and environmentally sustainable construction.

"I think it's a chance to take our ethos that people of goodwill, regardless of party or race or background, can get things done when we work together," Benjamin said. "It's our job to show people that there's a different way to get things done."

3. Boosting business.

When Benjamin brings the big-city mayors to town, Columbia businesses will have a chance to connect with national leaders and line themselves up for growth opportunities, Benjamin said.

"We're going to light up Main Street and bring the mayors downtown and really want to create an environment where our businesses get a chance to expose themselves to these opportunities," Benjamin said. "We want to intentionally, unabashedly grow our GDP."