West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens claims campaign sign is racist - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens claims campaign sign is racist

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

In the latest salvo in the ongoing political battle of wills between West Columbia Mayor Joe Owens and Councilman Tem Miles, Owens claims a new campaign sign at Miles' house is racist.

The sign, which shows a photo of Owens sandwiched between President Barack Obama and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, says, "Want to have ONE voice controlling our government? Me neither. Vote NO! To Strong Mayor. Unite Our City."

"It kind of connects all the dots," said Bruce Brutschy, an opponent to strong mayor. "A strong mayor is for weak people."

But what do President Obama, Benjamin, and Owens have in common?

"It points out on a larger scale, what's wrong with politically managed government," said Brutschy. "We wanted to add Mayor Steve Benjamin because he was the last guy to want a strong mayor government."

Mayor Owens, who was unavailable for a sit-down interview on Friday, spoke to us via telephone and called the signs "improper."

"It's illegal to put someone's face on a sign without their permission," said Owens.

But while city leaders continue to fight amongst themselves over how they should govern, some residents of the close community say the ad is proving a point.

"I'm really for what we have right now," said resident Doc Morgan. "I don't really like change. I can see change in Washington and I don't like it. So I'd rather stay status quo maybe."

"I don't think that it's racism, I just think it's dirty politics," said resident Chris Goff.

The City of West Columbia is still over a month away from voting on whether or not the city's government should be changed from council-strong to strong mayor.

If citizens vote in favor of the strong mayor proposal, Owens could gain more executive powers running meetings, managing daily affairs at city hall, and the people who work there.

Miles, backed by a grassroots effort called "West Columbia United," has been fighting the proposal and the mayor for several weeks.

The campaign sign is the newest point of contention for the mayor and his detractors. On Thursday night during a news conference called by Owens to answer a report that said he was abusing power, Miles appeared and engaged in a heated exchange with the mayor.

The news conference was ultimately canceled after Miles and Owens argued for several minutes in view of the public and news cameras.

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