Small businessman emigrated from Middle East to Columbia 30 years ago
Moe Baddourah has called Columbia his home for more than 30 years. Now, he hopes the city will call him its mayor.
After moving from the Middle East and settling in Columbia as a teenager, Baddourah took a job at his uncle’s restaurant, Andy’s Deli in Five Points. His small-business instinct sprouted from those roots, and for the past eight years he has owned and worked as the chef at his own restaurant, Moe’s Grapevine Italian Restaurant on Rosewood Drive.
For the past year and a half, Baddourah has represented City Council District 3. He and his wife Carrie and their two young sons, Zeke and Eli, live in the Shandon neighborhood.
His favorite part of Columbia, he said, is the people. Baddourah has focused his campaign efforts on making door-to-door connections with citizens.
“The people here are awesome. That’s why I fight for them every day,” he said. “When I make decisions as a city councilman and when I will make decisions as mayor, I always put the people first.”
Hiring a police chief
The first step for Baddourah to combating crime in the city, particularly in the beleaguered Five Points district, is to hire a new police chief. Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago has served the Columbia Police Department since former chief Randy Scott resigned in April.
“We need the leadership in the department. We need stability,” Baddourah said. “We need to make sure the public receives the service that they pay for, which is public safety.”
He said the city should be looking for someone with experience in “urban policing” and fighting gang activity.
“I can’t sit here and tell you what kind of message we need to support until (we have) a police chief that we [needed] to hire yesterday,” he said.
Efficiency in government
Baddourah says his small-business mindset makes him a strong candidate for the mayoral seat currently held by his election opponent, Steve Benjamin.
Building off his experience with fiscal efficiency in business, Baddourah says he will look for ways to balance the city budget. He plans to start by cutting operations costs in the mayor’s office and going to city department heads to find areas for greater efficiency in everyday operations, “a little bit here and a little bit there.”
Checks and balances
Baddourah opposes Columbia’s possible conversion to a strong-mayor form of government, which voters will decide in a special election Dec. 3. Benjamin has loudly supported the referendum, which would give the mayor broader administrative powers that are currently held by the city’s hired manager.
The strong mayor system would be bad for Columbia, Baddourah said, because it lacks checks and balances.
“With the strong mayor … he makes his own decisions,” he said. “It’s his way or no way.”
Baddourah added that he feels Benjamin has neglected the voice of the “average Joe” and has become a representative who favors special interest groups.
A message for students
A graduate of USC’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management with bachelor and master’s degrees, Baddourah stressed the responsibility of USC students to be good neighbors in their community.
“Be aware and see what’s going on around you, and be responsible and respectful,” he said.
“We want you all to get involved with … local government and be a voice. Be the connecting link between my generation and your generation and the future generation, because that’s how we understand what’s coming up next.”