In a runaway Tuesday, two-time candidate Cameron Runyan swept into one of Columbia’s citywide council seats.
The 35-year-old financial adviser took 59 percent of the vote, with strong backing from African-American voters and the support of Mayor Steve Benjamin.
Runyan led attorney Robert Bolchoz by nearly 2,100 votes. Perennial candidate Joe Azar finished a distant third.
Citing his long-range vision for the capital city, Runyan told supporters that he will be a leader who plans “not for the next five minutes but the next 5, 10, 50 years.”
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“We’re an incredible city now,” he said at the 701 Whaley building in Olympia. “But we’re going to be an amazing city in 20 years.”
Runyan won the at-large seat he failed to capture in 2008 when he lost to Councilman Daniel Rickenmann, who decided last summer not to seek a third term. Rickenmann is widely viewed as council’s fiscal conservative.
“Our approach will be different,” Runyan said.
He and the winners of two other races for City Council will start their new terms July 1.
Efforts to reach Bolchoz Tuesday night were unsuccessful. But earlier in the evening as he followed the results at his home, Bolchoz was buoyed by figures that showed he was leading in the Meadowfield precinct. “I’m the mayor of Meadowfield,” the candidate declared jokingly to relatives and friends.
Azar said he enjoyed this campaign more than his 10 previous ones, but he lamented the low voter turnout.
“There seemed to be more apathy,” the Five Points businessman said. “People don’t care anymore in this city. It’s sad.”
Unofficial totals from the Richland County Elections & Voter Registration office show that 8,417 people voted on a temperate, mostly overcast spring day. That’s a 12 percent turnout of Columbia’s 69,136 registered voters.
In a similar race in 2008, 10,660 people, or just more than 18 percent, cast ballots.
Political observers had expected turnout to be at or below the typical 15 percent to 20 percent who cast ballots in non-mayoral elections. This one, many political observers and poll workers said, was affected by polite campaigns and spring break occurring at all three public schools and two of the city’s largest private schools.
Benjamin, the city’s first black mayor, called Runyan’s win “a great victory for Columbia.”
Runyan said he was surprised by the size of the win.
“It’s a mandate for the issues we ran on,” Runyan said, citing his support for a penny increase in the sales tax to support the bus system and the use of public seed money to encourage private investment in Innovista, Bull Street and North Main Street.
Runyan campaign strategist Adam Fogle said Runyan carried 80 percent to 90 percent of African-American voters who turned out. He also carried many of the Shandon precincts, Fogle said.
A sampling of precincts Tuesday afternoon showed voters were not excited.
In Greenview, an African-American neighborhood that regularly has high voter turnout, fewer than 100 people voted by early afternoon. The Greenview precinct has 1,771 active voters. Four year ago, 275 people voted in the Greenview precinct.
“We’re not seeing a record low,” said Ida Clinkscale, who said she has worked the polls more than 25 years. Clinkscale chalked up the depressed turnout to candidates who did not work hard. “Normally they have fish fries or other events,” she said. “They have not familiarized themselves with this community. Maybe we don’t matter.”
In nearby Fairwold precinct, veteran poll manager Ira Scott called the early afternoon turnout of 35 voters “pitiful.” Scott said normally there is a line as the poll opens at 7 a.m. – but not in this election.
“This is probably the worst I’ve seen other than the Republican primary,” Scott said, smiling.
In Runyan’s own precinct, Ward 4 in the Elmwood Park neighborhood, 121 people had voted by 1:50 p.m. Tuesday. Ward 4 has 1,395 registered voters, which means the turnout in the afternoon was about 8.5 percent.
At the Dreher High School precinct where Bolchoz voted, 235 or about 19 percent of the roughly 1,200 voters had cast ballots by 2:30 p.m. Longtime poll manager Betty Jones termed the turnout “pitiful” in an activist precinct. In 2008, 423 people voted in that precinct.
Bolchoz, a former Republican candidate for state attorney general, tended to do better in well-to-do neighborhoods along the city’s eastern edge.
Absentee totals hovered about 350, compared with 1,617 in the similar campaign in 2008. But that race was more contentious than this year’s, and turnout likely was improved by a referendum on lifting the ban on Sunday sales of beer and wine.
Rickenmann beat Runyan by 1,333 votes, taking 44 precincts to Runyan’s 22. Rickenmann also carried the African-American vote, according to voting records at the county elections office.