Benjamin concedes as Columbia voters reject strong mayor plan - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Benjamin concedes as Columbia voters reject strong mayor plan

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

A proposal that would have changed Columbia's form of government and given the city's sitting mayor more power has been rejected by city voters in a citywide referendum.

According to uncertified results from the Richland County Election Commission, just over 57 percent of 12,000 voters cast a ballot against the "strong mayor" proposal supported by Mayor Steve Benjamin.

Benjamin conceded the race just shortly after 9 p.m. and appeared before supporters to discuss the results.

"I know I have the support of the people of the city, and I'm excited about that," said Benjamin. "It means we start a new term on Jan. 1, so we're going to continue to work hard for the people of Columbia, continue to make our vision a reality, continue making this a city where our children can grow up to live up to their God-given potential. We're going to do all those things."

As for what happened for this measure to be defeated, Benjamin said turnout and the election's odd timing might have plenty to do with it. 

"Americans vote in November. They don't vote during the holidays season," said Benjamin.

Benjamin and strong mayor strong mayor supporters spent the better part of several months campaigning and lobbying to put the issue to a referendum in time for the Nov. 5 municipal election, but ultimately were forced to settle on the Dec. 3 election in an effort to give voters more time to think about the plan.

That extra month gave "Vote No" supporters, lead by former Richland County Councilwoman Kit Smith and former Municipal Association Director Howard Duvall, more time to get their message out. 

Smith and Duvall's grassroots effort found themselves pitted against heavyweight strong mayor supporters such as former Attorney General Henry McMaster, Gov. Nikki Haley, and former Gov. Jim Hodges.

But Smith found support from current city council members Moe Baddourah, Tameika Isaac Devine, Leona Plaugh, state NAACP President Lonnie Randolph, Joe Azar, and GOP activist Rusty DePass.

Smith and many of those supporters celebrated the vote's result at her home.

Devine, who attended the celebration, was perhaps one of the loudest opposition voices on city council.

"I think there were forces that were trying to get this election tied to the mayor, they obviously wanted it in November so it would pass quickly," said Devine. "We were able to successfully separate the issues and have a month-long education process for the citizens."

With the referendum's failure at the ballot, the city's government will remain exactly as it is with no changes.

Richland County election officials will certify the results on Thursday morning.

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