Nickelodeon director wins mayor’s endorsement

Andy Smith, Columbia City Council candidate 2015.
Andy Smith, Columbia City Council candidate 2015.

Citywide council candidate Andy Smith got an endorsement Wednesday from Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Smith, director of Main Street’s Nickelodeon theater, and Benjamin touted the first-time candidate’s inclusiveness, an apparent reference to incumbent Councilman Cameron Runyan’s well publicized votes that critics have viewed as anti-gay.

“We both share a vision for a strong Columbia that invests in every community, every resident and every corner of our city,” Benjamin said in a statement issued after a news conference in front of City Hall. He did not name Runyan.

The 36-year-old Smith said, “I am honored to receive his endorsement today and am looking forward to advocating for every resident or our city on City Council.”

Smith is one of five challengers to Runyan in the Nov. 3 election.

In mid-August when Smith announced his candidacy, he told supporters he was running in part to help make Columbia “welcoming to all of our citizens regardless of who they love.”

He said in his Wednesday statement that the capital city needs “leadership that will build a smart, innovative and inclusive Columbia.” Smith’s statement does not name the incumbent.

The mayor endorsed Smith in the same location where four years ago Benjamin backed Runyan early in the 2012 campaign.

Some of Runyan ’s former supporters have been upset by a few votes he has cast and positions he has taken during his term. His sole dissenting vote against extending health benefits to Columbia workers who are in same-sex relationships ignited opposition.

The opposition exploded after he wrote a Nov. 23 column in The State newspaper explaining his decision.

“(M)y eyes were opened a few years ago to the reality that increasing moral relativism is contributing to the unraveling of the societal foundations we all depend on,” Runyan wrote. “Because so many now see all moral issues as being relative to the individual, we are quickly becoming a society where absolute moral truth no longer exists.”

Then last spring, he further angered some residents with his opposition to a human rights ordinance and commission that, in part, were intended to protect gay people from discrimination in the city.

Christine Johnson, a lesbian and advocate of gay rights whom the city had hired to draft the plan, said she quit in April because Runyan had obstructed her efforts.

Runyan has denied his actions were focused on Johnson. He said his opposition was to the ordinance.