Mayor's race over, eyes turn to strong mayor special election - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Mayor's race over, eyes turn to strong mayor special election

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Columbia City Council Columbia City Council

With the cement drying on Mayor Steve Benjamin's victory over City Councilman Moe Baddourah in Tuesday night's mayoral elections, the attention now turns to a rare special election that will decide Columbia's form of government.

"In just four weeks, we have the chance to do something truly remarkable, to do something truly historic and stand up and say as one people, and as one Columbia that it's time for change in Columbia," said Benjamin at his campaign victory party. "It's time for strong mayor in Columbia."

On Dec. 3, Columbia voters will head to the polls once again to vote on changing Columbia from a city manager-city council form of government to one headed by a strong mayor.

In our current form of government, the city manager has most of the hiring and firing power over city government and the mayor is an equally-weighted vote on our seven-member City Council.

In a strong mayor government, the mayor has most of the power to hire and fire employees and make more day-to-day decisions.

City Council has voted on the strong mayor initiative several times in the past few years. In the most recent straight vote on the issue in May 2012, Council voted 4-3 against the proposal.

That vote did not kill the issue, however. Strong mayor supporters, lead by Benjamin, attempted to push a new proposal earlier this year to allow a citywide vote.

But once again in a 4-3 vote, Council said no to the referendum, pushing strong mayor supporters to go for a petition drive to force the issue.

Former Attorney General Henry McMaster helped lead the effort to change to strong mayor.

"People all over the country are looking towards the south, the southeast, Columbia in particular," said McMaster. "We need to have a mechanism in the city government that can respond to the kinds of requests, the kind of interest, and the kind of action that is necessary to move us forward down that road to prosperity and we don't have it now."

Supporters needed 15 percent of the city's electorate -- or 11,063 total signatures -- to sign a petition asking for a special election. Weeks later, 11,757 petition signatures were certified by the Richland County elections office.

Benjamin, pleased with the results, tried to have the vote coincide with the Nov. 5 city elections, but had to settle with the Dec. 3 special election.

"Columbia has been involved in this discussion for decades, and the citizens have never had the opportunity to have their voices heard, so I'm very proud," said Benjamin in a September 2013 interview.

Supporters and detractors now have 27 days to make their case on strong mayor.

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