Steve Benjamin beats Moe Baddourah in mayor's race - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Steve Benjamin beats Moe Baddourah in mayor's race

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Steve Benjamin speaks to his supporters Tuesday night. Steve Benjamin speaks to his supporters Tuesday night.
Moe Baddourah concedes the election to Steve Benjamin. Moe Baddourah concedes the election to Steve Benjamin.
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin has been re-elected over City Councilman Moe Baddourah, according to preliminary election results.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Benjamin trounced Baddourah nearly 2 to 1 in the mayor's race -- 64 percent to 36 percent.

"This is our chance," said Benjamin at a victory rally Tuesday night. "This is our moment. This is our opportunity to hold destiny in our hands and chart a new course for tomorrow. This is your city. This is our city. This is our home."

Baddourah conceded the race late in the evening, saying he was grateful for the experience.

"I'm grateful for all the support I've received in the past several months, and I will continue to fight for every citizen that's in my district, and all the way in the city to make it better," said Baddourah.

Baddourah admitted campaign funding was a huge factor in the election results, but says he's still proud of the fact of getting out there and meeting thousands of voters in Columbia.

Benjamin campaigned largely on his first-term record of trying to help fix the city's budgetary issues, create jobs, reduce crime, and revitalize Main Street.

Benjamin was first elected in April 2010 after dispatching Columbia City Councilman Kirkman Finlay in a runoff election.

However, Benjamin's victory was cut short following a car accident in the early morning hours after the election.

Benjamin was never charged in the accident, but he did reach an unspecified settlement in the case with the victim.

One of Benjamin's first orders was to usher in a new era of regional cooperation. He created a group to discuss how to find ways Columbia can reach past the city limits, build coalitions with other local governments and improve services.

"We know that our constituents want us to run more effective, more efficient governments and it's important that we find ways to work together, reduce taxpayer burden and dramatically improve quality of life," said Benjamin in a July 2010 interview.

But Benjamin's first term seemed more dominated by security and crime issues rather than economic development plans.

In the past several years, Benjamin and the Columbia Police Department have had to deal with crime troubles in Five Points.

The cases of Carter Strange, an 18-year-old who was beaten in the entertainment district, and Martha Childress, an 18-year-old University of South Carolina student paralyzed in a shooting while waiting for cab, have become the public faces of the crime issues in the area.

The campaign soon became a referendum on security in Five Points, with Baddourah repeatedly swiping at Benjamin's record.

"The mayor likes to be in front of the camera all the time without addressing the issues with public safety. And he's still neglecting the fact that there's a violent crime issue in the city," said Baddourah.

Baddourah also took issue with Benjamin's handling of the deal to develop the state's old Mental Health hospital on Bull Street.

"Bull Street is like building a house. You ask the contractor to build you a house, you ask for drawings, you ask for a budget, you ask for prices, and the contractor says, 'Don't worry about it. Just think how many parties you'll have in the backyard,' and this is what Bull Street is all about," said Baddourah. "So after we committed a minimum of $50 million up to $71 million, we still don't know what this house is going to look like and how we're going to pay for it."

Benjamin hit back, saying Bull Street was about getting more tax dollars and stimulating the local economy.

"Mr. Baddourah says he only had a couple of months to review the plan for Bull Street. Usually in business, a couple of months is a long time. If you can't make a decision, you lose an opportunity," said Benjamin.

Benjamin says in addition to the progress made on reviving downtown Columbia and Main Street, he's also proud of the fact that the city is financially sound.

In fact, the city just got a AA+ bond rating.

Mayor Benjamin and his staff still have work. One of the big goals on his agenda is getting voters to approve a change to the strong mayor system of government during a special election on Dec. 3.

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