Mayoral candidates take in "Martha's List" - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Mayoral candidates take in "Martha's List"

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From left to right: Larry Sypolt, Moe Baddourah, and Mayor Steve Benjamin From left to right: Larry Sypolt, Moe Baddourah, and Mayor Steve Benjamin

The shooting incident in Five Points may be changing the conversation leading up to election day in Columbia. Voters will go to the polls in about two weeks to choose three council members and a mayor.

The competition for mayor paused briefly on Monday as the three candidates gathered to hear comments from Ron Johnson, the stepfather of shooting victim Martha Childress.

Mayor Steve Benjamin, Councilman Moe Baddourah, and Larry Sypolt all listened to Johnson and the family's attorney unveil what has been called "Martha's List" -- a set of proposed steps toward better public safety in the entertainment and shopping district.

It is a subject the candidates have focused on before but even more so now.

"The last public hearing where it was held in the Food Lion parking lot, a lot of those ideas I've spoke about, but not only that, there's other people that showed concern with it," said Baddourah. 

"In my opinion, there are only two ways you're going to fix this issue as it pertains to the City of Columbia Police Department, and that is to merge with Richland County, or have a strong mayor. I do not have faith in the current system that we have to actually move toward fixing these issues," said Sypolt.  

Benjamin says with or without a change to a strong mayor form of government, something he has pushed hard, the mayor can have a significant impact on this issue.

"All the things people said couldn't be done, we've used this bully pulpit effectively to affect change, so it can be done," said Benjamin. "So I believe the strong mayor form of government not only is more effective, but when things don't happen, we know exactly who to hold accountable."

One item on the rundown of proposals outlined at Monday afternoon news conference was a suggestion to let law enforcement professionals get together to brainstorm a plan without allowing politicians to interfere.

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