Benjamin, Finlay trade barbs in runoff debate

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - With less than one week to go until the April 20 runoff, the two remaining candidates for mayor, Steve Benjamin and Kirkman Finlay, are making their final cases to the voters.

Both men stopped at the WIS Studios Wednesday night to participate in a debate.

Things started off cordial, but became heated halfway through when Benjamin and Finlay traded barbs over Columbia's homeless problem.

"For four years Mr. Finlay's been there, he's been a part of the problem," said Benjamin, over Finlay's time on City Council.

"When we had some very contentious debates, I don't remember you being there Mr. Benjamin," Finlay retorted.

Benjamin barked back. "If Mr. Finlay didn't see me there then he must not have been looking," he said. "I was standing there side by side with Belinda Gergel and Johnny Fulsome and the other community leaders who, as a member of the homeless site selection committee, Kirkman, the committee that council, that you appointed and then didn't decide to listen to our resolution."

"When the tough decisions are made and people are asked to show up and speak, it doesn't always happen," said Finlay.

If there was any topic where a strong contrast between the candidates became clear, it was the budget. Benjamin supported his long standing position to spend more money on police and fire fighters. Finlay held his ground, saying it's not a realistic option.

"I think we've made great improvement with less dollars, really working on our efficiency," said Finlay.

"Our problem at the city has not been a revenue problem, it's been more of a spending problem and a real challenge with the culture of city government," said Benjamin. "We have to, we must make sure that while we're cutting our police department by $6 million we can't have the salaries of the highest paid city employees going up $5 million."

"The vast majority of cuts have actually been pro-rata across the city," said Finlay.

"Across the board budget cuts are not a thoughtful way to run a government," said Benjamin. "You have to be strategic and sit down and identify what your priorities are."

We asked the candidates how they would find money to keep the city's buses running.  Benjamin said he'd try to bring in federal and county money and he'd consider scaling the bus system down. Finlay said if county tax dollars couldn't cover the cost, he'd consider as a last option, pulling the money from Columbia's arts community.

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