Judge hears sides in legal challenge against city council election date

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Circuit Court Judge James Barber heard arguments Thursday morning to delay the April 6 election to fill a city council seat vacated by E.W. Cromartie.

The legal challenge to contest the date was filed on Monday by Paul Denman, who says the date would not give him enough time to run for the seat and wouldn't give residents of District Two enough time to pick a candidate.

Attorney Jay Bender, who is representing Denman, says the city of Columbia has scheduled an improper election. Denman himself couldn't make the hearing due to a virus, Bender said.

City attorney Ken Gaines defended the date. City council voted in favor of the election date on Monday believing state law required it to occur at the next general election.

Bender says one of the core questions is not whether there's enough time to print ballots, but whether voters have enough time to fully participate in the electoral process.

Also pushing for the April balloting is attorney Butch Bowers. Among his arguments, that news coverage surrounding Cromartie's tax scandal and resignation has made voters more aware than ever of the upcoming election and the candidates who've stepped up to run.

"I think it's clear that the notice that would be provided by the media attention in this case far outweighs, far exceeds the notice that would have been there with strict compliance," said Bowers.

Bowers represents Lower Waverly neighborhood leader Durham Carter.

"I know the people in Columbia," said Carter. "I know who can represent me and who cannot."

Shortly after the hearing ended, the list of candidates continued to grow. One of the latest to file, neighborhood activist Alex Furgess.

"District Two is my district," said Furgess. "And I have spent years working very hard for the people of District Two."

Furgess was quickly joined by two more looking to fill the vacancy. Josh Stroman and retired Lt. Col. Gary Myers, who until today had been running for mayor.

That makes seven candidates in district two. Filing closes Friday.

Judge Barber took the arguments under advisement, but issued no decision. It is possible he might not rule on Thursday.

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