On the one hand, we’re glad Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin has a full-time chauffeur … after all, you don’t want this guy driving himself around town.

Seriously … not at all.

But shouldn’t Benjamin – who is about to win reelection by a landslide – pay for his own driver? And why did he pick his chauffeur from the ranks of the city’s police force? Finally, why is a local television station sitting on this story until after Benjamin faces voters at the polls this week?

Those are all good questions …

Benjamin’s driver – Chris Carrizales – was a member of the Columbia Police Department (CPD)’s drug suppression unit until he was assigned to provide “security” to the mayor at some point within the last year. According to our sources, “Benjamin specifically asked that (Carrizales) be taken off the unit and put in charge of being the mayor’s taxi driver.”

City officials tell FITS Carrizales was assigned to guard Benjamin “due to threats made against the mayor,” although they declined to discuss the specific nature of those alleged threats.

City officials also disputed the assertion that Carrizales is assigned to Benjamin “full-time” – arguing that he “also works as a community liaison.”

Hmmmmm …

All of this is very interesting … which is presumably why reporter Jody Barr of WIS TV 10 (NBC – Columbia, S.C.) has submitted multiple requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) seeking documents related to this arrangement. In fact last week Barr reportedly confronted Benjamin and interim city police chief Ruben Santiago with what he had been able to uncover – and informed them of his intention to file a story prior to the Columbia mayoral election on November 5.

That didn’t happen, though.

Why? According to sources at WIS, Benjamin threatened to back out of the station’s televised mayoral debate last week if Barr ran the story about his chauffeur prior to the election.

And of course WIS backed down …

“Not only does Benjamin own the CPD, he also owns the local media,” one of our sources lamented.

Sure seems that way, doesn’t it?

Obviously this story isn’t going to make-or-break a mayoral race that was over before it really began. But is instructive on how Benjamin’s “thugocracy” is able to strong arm dissent in South Carolina’s capital.

It also proves (once again) how the mainstream media in this state would rather kowtow and cut deals than actually do its job …