The Daily Gamecock

In Our Opinion: Columbia on right track with Steve Benjamin

Columbia has made great progress in the three years since Steve Benjamin was elected mayor.
Crime is down, and downtown — especially Main Street — is moving toward a long-awaited rebirth. The city has a spark that was lacking toward the end of longtime Mayor Bob Coble’s tenure.

We want Columbia to be a great city — the sort of city that attracts top-flight faculty and encourages students to stick around after graduation. We see it on that path.

Still, we have concerns about where the city is today and the consequences of its newfound ambition.

Reductions in crime are encouraging, but they aren’t enough. Armed robberies and shootings aren’t acceptable in Five Points, just as they aren’t anywhere in the city. Benjamin and the rest of city leadership need to establish a clear plan to define and deal with those issues, and they need to do so right away.

We agree with challenger Moe Baddourah: Step one is to hire a permanent police chief. It’s been more than six months since Randy Scott stepped down in April, and it’s time to let someone replace him in earnest.

We’re also encouraged by Benjamin’s energy and vision for the city, but a growing tendency to quickly push through big projects like the Bull Street hospital redevelopment has rubbed too many residents the wrong way.

Taxpayers have a right to know exactly what their money is being used for, and a vision for the city is no good if its residents aren’t all on board.

Benjamin needs to be more transparent, and concerns from residents and council members like Baddourah and Leona Plaugh should be heeded more. A play-it-safe attitude won’t make quick work of resolving Columbia’s lingering problems, but it will make sure we’re still on the right path.

For now, we think the vision Benjamin has laid out is keeping the city on that path.
We hope voters will keep it there by re-electing Benjamin.