The Daily Gamecock

Mayor aims to connect city, USC

New bus system, increased Five Points safety key points



“I would like to stand up here and announce that we have accomplished all of our goals, that our city is perfect,” said Benjamin. “But we have not and it is not.”

The speech’s venue conveyed the history the first-term mayor had to surpass. Benjamin gave his address in the Coble Ballroom, named after his predecessor, who served for 20 years. Outside the windows of the reception hall, the historic Adluh Flour Mill towered, the last of its kind in South Carolina and a reminder of the state’s once-booming industry.

Benjamin repeatedly highlighted plans to further assimilate USC and its students into the city, improve public transportation, attract more companies and reinvest in the police department. He took the opportunity to promote Interim Police Chief Randy Scott, removing the interim from his title.

“Randy Scott is the most innovative and inventive law enforcement leader in this state,” Benjamin said after the speech. “He’s already hit the ground running.”

During his speech, Benjamin cited that the number of violent crimes in Columbia increased from 611 to 708 between January and June of 2010.

When asked about how he plans to counter rising violence in Five Points, Benjamin said he plans to continue investing in the police force.

“Prior to this year the city cut its department budget significantly, almost $4 million,” Benjamin said. “We stopped that. We’re getting every single vacancy at the department filled. We’ve opened up a new region.”

Benjamin said 35 patrol cars have been added to the police fleet and he wants the department to focus more on violent crimes.

The mayor also stated his plan to connect USC, Five Points, Main Street and the Vista as “one powerhouse business and entertainment district” with “a fleet of clean, next generation, energy-efficient buses outfitted with mobile broadband.”

“Imagine increasing ridership by tapping into the roughly 50,000 students from USC, Benedict, Allen, Columbia College, Midlands Tech and CIU,” Benjamin said.

But before Benjamin began announcing future plans for the city, he pointed out its current accomplishments. He returned repeatedly to the phrase “I see reason to celebrate.”

The mayor applauded city workers for their handling of last week’s snow, saying that Columbia’s streets were clean while other cites languished. He also announced that Columbia was $4.8 million under budget.

“We are in the black and that is certainly something to celebrate,” Benjamin said.

One attendee, Avius Strong, said he wanted Benjamin to prioritize fighting youth violence through more social programs.

“I’d like for more in-depth [solutions],” Strong said of Benjamin’s speech. “We need more grassroots work.”

Benjamin also commented on the challenge he accepted from nonprofit organization NoFizz Charlotte to avoid soda and drink more than 60 ounces of water every day.

“I’ve never been a guy who drinks a lot of soda,” said Benjamin. “Not only have I given up carbonated drinks, I’ve given up coffee, tea — and no spirits — it’s just been water. I drank like four cups of coffee a day.”

When asked if he made concessions for Communion, Benjamin said he drinks grape juice at his church.


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