The Daily Gamecock

USC hosts city of Columbia Mayoral Forum

<p>Columbia skyline.</p>

Columbia skyline.

The Columbia Chamber partnered with USC, the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association and the Urban Land Institute to hold the Mayoral Forum at the Carolina Theater in Russell House.

All four mayoral candidates were present at the forum and answered varying questions about their plans for the city of Columbia if elected as mayor.

These candidates include Moe Baddourah, former city council member; Tameika Isaac Devine, current at-large city council member; Sam Johnson, a former aide to Mayor Steve Benjamin and Daniel J. Rickenmann, current city councilman for District 4 of Columbia.

Kirk Randazzo, USC's political science department chair, moderated the event and began by asking the candidates how they would address Columbia's economic development and infrastructure issues. Isaac Devine was the first to answer this question.

"We have people without jobs, and we have jobs without people. In between there, there's a skills gap," Isaac Devine said. "So, we need to be making sure that we're developing the skills in our infrastructure, our human infrastructure, to meet the jobs, not just of today, but of the future."

Following Isaac Devine's response, Rickenmann spoke about Columbia's qualities that would attract investors.

"The opening line for a lot of people in Columbia is 'we're two hours from the beach and we're two hours from the mountains,'" Rickenmann said. "What we need to be selling is what we have: a great flagship university, we have an incredible relationship with Fort Jackson, we have surrounding areas."

Following Rickenmann's response, Johnson addressed the need to attract young people, specifically USC students, to live in the city.

"We've got to make sure that we have the quality of life, the things that companies require if they're gonna come to a city and grow," Johnson said. "We've got to think about how we make sure that our young talent of 60,000 students that we graduate a year, how we make sure that we are able to attain them." 

Following Johnson's response, Baddourah spoke about corruption issues within Columbia.

"(We need to) make sure we end the corruption in the city," Baddourah said. "When Bull Street development was coming around, there were a bunch of attorneys sitting in attorney's office eating pizza at the end of the night trying to work out a deal ... this is the kind of corruption we need to end."

Stan Conine, a retired city of Columbia constituent, attended the Mayoral Forum to meet the candidates and reaffirm his voting choice.

"I've met a couple of the candidates, and I know a little bit about all of them, but I've never seen them face-to-face," Conine said. "There have been some other forums that I haven't been able to attend so I thought this would be a good one ... Mostly just here to evaluate and make sure that what I think is my decision, is a good decision."  

Dr. Randazzo switched question topics to ask the candidates about another issue: schools and education. Councilman Rickenmann addressed this topic by speaking about issues within Columbia's public schools.

"We need to work with the school district, but at the same time we need to hold them accountable," Rickenmann said. "Currently, if you go to the national website and you look up Richland One, less than 30% of the kids that are graduating from there are career-ready. Less than 51% of the money's being invested in the classroom. We got administrators making an average of close to $100,000, so you have to question where is the priority."

Councilwoman Isaac Devine addressed a question about public safety within the Columbia community by talking about the causes behind crime.

"We have got to look at the reasons that violent crime is up. Part of it is conflict resolution skills, part of it is understanding that we have a high rate of poverty. In Columbia, we've got a 21% poverty rate," Issac Devine said. "We have to understand the community's responsibility to be part of the solution. Law enforcement can only do so much."

Following Issac Devine's comments about solutions to crime issues, Baddourah addressed public safety with a different strategy.

"Community policing is when you have police officers walking the neighborhoods, introducing themselves to everybody that lives in the neighborhood," Baddourah said. "But not only that, introduce substations. Put police substations in our parks, in our neighborhoods, for people to go and get help immediately."

The final topic of the forum was homelessness within the city. Johnson addressed this issue by talking about the implementation of certain services for the homeless.

"Our homelessness challenge in Columbia is something that we've talked about for a long time, and we've got to make sure that we have the leadership that allows for us to tackle it in a new way," Johnson said. "So that we build a campus that allows for us to make sure that folks are able to get the housing and the treatment that they need." 

The election for the City of Columbia's mayor will be held on Nov. 2.