Columbia residents will elect the next mayor from a group of four candidates on Nov. 2. The incoming mayor will replace Steven Benjamin, the first Black mayor of Columbia who served since 2010. Benjamin is not running for re-election.
If needed, a runoff election will be held Nov. 16.
Local small business owner, councilman and USC alumnus Moe Baddourah has made his return to the race for mayor of Columbia after his defeat in 2013. Baddourah said his most important policy involves community policing. He said this will strengthen the trust between community members and police officers. This improved safety will also be reflected in Columbia's Five Points district.
In his run for mayor this year, Baddourah's campaign focuses heavily on transparency, "putting everything in public without executive sessions and backdoor deals."
Baddourah said he has plans to motivate Five Points businesses to reopen, including incentivizing them with grants and eliminating small business license fees. He said granting bars their liquor license is out of his jurisdiction because it is a state policy.
"Any business that plays by the rules should be able to operate freely," Baddourah said.
Baddourah said he would not mandate a COVID-19 vaccine, but he favors wearing masks and promoting the vaccine.
As a small business owner himself, Baddourah said he is the only candidate who prioritizes and relates to the daily struggle behind small businesses.
"Small businesses stay because they feel and grow with the community," Baddourah said.
Baddourah served two terms on the city council but was suspended in 2017 for a second-degree domestic violence charge. Upon being suspended, Baddourah expressed his frustrations with Gov. Henry McMaster about being faced with consequences without a conviction, according to reporting by Cola Daily. He said he is innocent and has never laid a hand on his wife, according to reporting by Cola Daily. The charges were dropped when he finished a pre-trial intervention program. He then reentered the city council in 2018 and lost his re-election bid in 2019, according to reporting by The State.
City councilman Daniel Rickenmann, a small business owner and USC alumnus, said he decided to run for mayor to accelerate Columbia's modernization, as other South Carolina cities are growing at a faster rate.
"My goal is to make us the number one city in South Carolina again," Rickenmann said.
Columbia's high taxes make the city uncompetitive compared to other cities across the state, such as Charleston and Greenville, Rickenmann said, pointing to a recent study.
"We're thin. We need to attract businesses and investment if we want to grow," Rickenmann said. "We're losing to our surrounding communities."
Rickenmann said the local workforce could be boosted by creating more accessible and affordable housing opportunities, as found on his campaign website. He said this could be done by using existing vacant lots and changing zoning laws.
"Utilizing resources that we have, but also with higher density," Rickenmann said.
Another one of Rickenmann's priorities is to revitalize Five Points. He said he thinks this can be done by making sure USC, neighborhood leaders, local politicians and students are all engaged in the conversation.
"I'm hoping that as we move forward and I can win the mayorship that we really, really embrace the students and decision-making, and I think we'll have a stronger community," Rickenmann said.
Rickenmann said pushing people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is the way to go.
"The more vaccination, the less likely we have to wear a mask and other things, and we can continue to keep our economy and life somewhat back to normal," Rickenmann said. "We have to keep moving forward so that we're not closing down businesses."
Mayoral candidate Tameika Isaac-Devine's vision for Columbia is through the lens of equity.
"I'm running to be mayor for everybody. I'm working to build an inclusive community," Isaac-Devine said.
According to Isaac-Devine, looking through the lens of equity is not just having a plan for economic growth but a plan for economic justice. This means acknowledging the existence of the racial wealth gap, helping people transition from public housing to homeownership and creating high-paying jobs, among other things.
"All those have to be a critical part of our economic plan, and making sure it addresses everybody, not just business owners or not just high school graduates or college graduates," Isaac-Devine said.
Isaac-Devine said she has a plan for climate justice that includes looking at how to be sustainable while addressing areas of extreme poverty and underdeveloped communities. She said she wants to make sure nobody in the community is left behind.
Devine said she would support a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for K-12 public schools once these age groups are eligible to receive it. She said she opposes how the state has managed the pandemic with regards to the state ban on mask mandates.
Outside of her candidacy, the Columbia native and USC School of Law graduate Isaac-Devine is an at-large councilperson and an attorney. She is also a wife and a mother.
By bringing "all those experiences to the table," Isaac-Devine said she thinks she can use the influence of the mayor's office to advance her vision for the city and bring people together.
Mayoral candidate Sam Johnson said he wants to make Columbia a great place not just for college students but also for recent graduates.
"I think we have so many opportunities to create more synergy with University of South Carolina and Columbia," Johnson said. "I want to be the mayor that creates that synergy."
Johnson said he wants to fully immerse himself in what it is like doing business in Columbia and what obstacles are unique to this city.
In addition to his goal for small business representation, Johnson's other main policy points are regarding the health disparities that have plagued Columbia, gaining control of gun violence, addressing the gender pay gap issue, creating a 10-year contract for the police department and making Five Points an area students can both have fun and work, according to his campaign website.
Johnson said Five Points should be a safe place to "live, work, play."
"As a father of a 16-month-old little girl, there are some things that are non-negotiable. I am not going to put anyone's life at risk," Johnson said.
Regarding COVID-19, Johnson said he would follow and enforce the direction given by health officials. He was also the only campaign to call on the city of Columbia to mandate vaccines for city employees.
"Public health should be a public policy," Johnson said.
Prior to running for mayor, Johnson worked as Mayor Steven Benjamin's former aide. During this time, Johnson said he saw first-hand the importance of standing up on tough issues. He said he wishes to bring this knowledge into his pursuit for mayor.
"There are times you have to be the tip of the spear," Johnson said.