COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Mayor-elect Steve Benjamin took over for outgoing Mayor Bob Coble on Wednesday, marking the end of Coble's 20-year reign over the City of Columbia.
Throughout his campaign, Benjamin talked about Columbia's untapped potential. What the city needed, he said, was a willingness to think big and someone who would lead the way.
The 40-year-old attorney becomes that leader with his inauguration, trying to bring the capital city together. "It'll be a good time," said Benjamin of his inauguration. "It'll be fun. We're going to have a color guard, we'll have children, song on the program."
Benjamin has spent most of his adult life in leadership roles. In 1993, he served as USC student body president.
Six years later, Gov. Jim Hodges picked Benjamin to head the state Department of Probation Parole and Pardon Services. Only a few years after that, he launched his bid for attorney general. Benjamin lost that race to Republican Henry McMaster, but he gained the experience of running a statewide campaign.
Later, after heading the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and serving on multiple boards and committees, Benjamin had the contacts, support, and a philosophy about how to move the city forward.
Benjamin kept his remarks brief, but promised full effort to make Columbia a great city. "For my part, I will be content in the satisfaction of knowing that my two little girls will live in a better place, so years from now as they raise their own children, they might look back and be proud of their father and maybe then they will understand how all those hours taken from them were for them after all," said Benjamin.
The swearing-in ceremony drew a large crowd that included state lawmakers, judges, civic leaders and political figures. Other council members Sam Davis, Tameika Isaac Devine, and first-termer Leona Plaugh also took their oaths, but it was Benjamin's night.
Benjamin reiterated his call to unify the city. "You pull in people who don't share your political beliefs and might not share your religious beliefs, who live in different parts of town and may have different pressing priorities that day and rally them around a central vision that reflects the fact that we all need and want the same things," said Benjamin. "We want safe communities. We want to have a good chance at great jobs to support our families. We all want the same things."
The new title brought celebrity status. Mayor Benjamin will be the star of more inaugural events to come, including Thursday's gala at the Township Auditorium.