Benjamin pushes strong mayor, but does he have the votes? - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Benjamin pushes strong mayor, but does he have the votes?

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

When you hear the word "mayor" you likely think of an elected official who is in charge of the city -- a position with a lot of power.

But that's not the case in Columbia. However, Mayor Steve Benjamin is trying to change that by letting the voters decide on the issue.

"The people in Columbia are incredibly savvy and incredibly engaged; incredibly involved in their municipal government, their county government, and state government as a state capital here, so I wouldn't underestimate their ability to understand a potential change in form of government," said Benjamin.  

The change would move Columbia's power structure from a council-city manager form of government to a strong mayor form of government.

The change has been debated for the better part of two decades -- if not more -- to alter power.

Expect some of the opposition to the plan to come from Councilman and mayoral candidate Moe Baddourah.

"Right now, I am going to listen to the public tomorrow during the public hearing, but on my personal level to represent the people that elected me, I feel like 10 weeks out before an election is kind of short notice to educate the public the difference between both governments," said Baddourah. 

Baddourah, one of two candidates trying to unseat Benjamin, has attacked Benjamin's support for strong mayor, accusing Benjamin of timing his push for the change to coincide with his bid for re-election.

But the incumbent mayor will be able to fire back with Baddourah's own words on the subject.

"The advantage is that you really are a voice and a face for the city when you become a strong mayor," said Baddourah in a May 2012 interview. "And we'd like to see that. I think Columbia is ready for that."

That quote is what he told us in support of a similar proposal after he'd been elected to the council.

When asked about the quote, Baddourah said it was fair to believe his position has evolved over time due to what he was hearing from his constituents. 

"I am a public official elected by the public, and I think most anything that has to do with city government has to be reflective of the people that elected me in office," said Baddourah.

Larry Sypolt, the third candidate for mayor, has also come out against Benjamin's proposal, saying the strong mayor proposal gives too much power to one person.

"Mayor Benjamin is correct in labeling the citizens in Columbia as being both savvy and involved, but he failed to mention that they are also very intelligent as they are seeing through this constant push of political agendas being rushed through. I am not afraid of taking the strong stance that I have against putting the strong mayor form of government on the ballot. If it gets put on the ballot it will get pushed through just the way we witnessed the penny tax go through. Being a candidate for mayor should involve being a leader that will stand up and educate our citizens of the pitfalls of such an agenda even being placed on the ballot instead of simply going along with what they think will win them the election," said Sypolt in a statement.

The last time council tackled this issue, it failed on a 4 to 3 vote with two different council members. This time around, Benjamin appears to have two solid 'yes' votes on his side to move this issue to a city-wide vote in November.

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