COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Thursday, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin announced that he will not be seeking re-election for a fourth term.
He said that his family played a huge role in the decision, saying that in stepping away from public office, he hopes to focus on spending time with his daughters and growing his law practice.
“It has been my life’s blessing to serve as the Mayor of Columbia -- the city that I love, the city that has given me everything from my wife and a family to an unprecedented opportunity to serve the people who I love here,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin has held office since April 2010 when he made history as the first African American mayor Columbia has had. He is the city’s 36th mayor. By the end of his term on December 31, he will have served in the role for nearly 12 years.
Benjamin said he’s not ruling out running for public office again one day, but he said it’s not currently on his agenda.
“Certainly, it’s possible,” Benjamin said. “You never say never. I love public service.”
Benjamin addressed rumors and speculation that he might be getting ready to run for the 2022 gubernatorial race, saying in a statement that he does not intend to run for South Carolina governor during the 2022 gubernatorial election.
During his time as mayor, he has led Columbia through different challenges the city has faced from the thousand-year flood in 2015 to the COVID-19 pandemic response over the last year.
“The other greatest challenge and success is that when faced with a crisis, no one steps up like Columbia does,” Benjamin said. “I mean if it’s protests around the Confederate battle flag or historic floods or the way in which we deal with some of the most difficult social issues of our time.”
During his time as mayor, the City of Columbia has revitalized Main Street, launched the Bull Street Development project, brought professional baseball to Columbia, invested in water and sewer improvements, and has incurred a budget surplus in eight of the last 11 years.
Benjamin served as the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and has become a leader in the Democratic party, giving a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. He also served as the president of the African American Mayors Association in 2015 and co-chaired the Pandemic Resilience Working Group for America’s Mayors with former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Benjamin will serve as mayor until December 31 but said he decided to announce now to clear the way for candidates to campaign.
“One reason I’m stepping off of the stage and clearing the way for potential candidates now is I want the candidates to be able to articulate their vision for the city,” Benjamin said.
He said he might endorse a future candidate, but he doesn’t have anyone in particular in mind yet.
In the last 10 months of his term, he said he will continue to focus on Columbia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As we continue to move forward as policymakers, our number one goal has to be corralling this public health threat, saving lives, and continuing to lead from the front in this battle,” Benjamin said.