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Azar: The Politics Of Benjamin Vs. Randolph



Most in Columbia, S.C. have heard by now about the saga of Dr. Lonnie Randolph and the incident at Tripp’s Cleaners. Dr. Randolph was reported to have had a diabetic incident that caused him to act quite out of character, become unruly, and get taken in by the Columbia, S.C. police department (CPD). In the process both the chief of police and the city manager arrived on the scene, either during or after the incident, which seems to have caused much discussion and community concern. In response, mayor Steve Benjamin proposed a city ordinance that council members could not be on any police scene. That ordinance failed on council in a 5-1 vote, and rightly it should have.

Dr. Randolph is known to have had diabetic problems for many years, causing irrational (out of character) behavior. Though I have had no experience with diabetes or associated problems, when I heard of Dr. Randolph’s situation, I was quite surprised. The behavior described was extremely out of character for him. So I remained quiet until more of the facts were presented, and the main one was a diabetic episode that caused him to be out of normal consciousness, as related by the news media, his attorney, and Dr. Randolph’s friends.

Let me tell you of the Dr. Randolph I know. Though I have known of him for many years, and we talk occasionally, we are at best acquaintances, not friends. However. every personal experience has been an honest experience, no lies, misleading statements, no sugar coating, just straightforward, honest – often vey bluntly so – conversation. I have yet to find him attempting to mislead or pander to me. He is often blunt, and can be very “in your face” if he feels strongly and strongly disagrees. He can abrasive and dismissive as well. But he has always been honest, at least in our discussions (and arguments), and I have never caught him in any lie or misleading context. Maybe others have, and I cannot speak to that, but I doubt that as he seems to value integrity far over political expedience or “being liked.” As a result, I always have felt that I can take his word “to the bank”, meaning that if I re-quote him, he would still say the same and verify that he said that to me and/or others.

In other words, though I do not always agree with Dr. Randolph – and have criticized him on some issues – I highly respect his integrity and value his word. Regardless of our positions, he is always welcome in my house and I will always not only respect his word, but ask for his observations and opinions. So far I have never been disappointed in his integrity, nor do I expect to be.

The position Benjamin has taken toward the Dr. Randolph case is somewhat surprising. Dr. Randolph has verification of his problem by friends, family and medical experts alike. In a case like this charges are often dropped by legal authorities as going to court serves no purpose, wastes time that can be used to try the backlog of cases already jammed into the system, wastes police time, wastes city attorney time, and wastes taxpayers’ money.

Of course, many would expect that a black mayor would give a free pass to the state head of the NAACP, which has not been the case here, and many feel it shows no special favor on the mayor’s part. Unfortunately, this is not thought of to be the real intent by those who follow city politics closely. One astute political operative, one of darker skin color than I, said this: “Benjamin’s trying to get white votes by beating up on Lonnie.”

That was something that had not crossed my mind. What had immediately come to mind over this was that Dr. Randolph had supported Steve Morrison for mayor over Benjamin: the state chairman of the NAACP, a black man, supported a white man for mayor over a black man. In my mind this was a way for Benjamin to get back at Dr. Randolph.

Dr. Randolph, in my humble opinion, is an honorable and trustworthy man. This unfortunate situation has been verified to be caused by a medical condition that is out of his control – much like an epileptic seizure. Unless there has been material damage – or Tripp’s Cleaners has reasonable reason to press charges – I agree that this case should be dropped for the reasons stated above, saving taxpayers’ money, and taking the politics out of it.

After all, this would not be the first, nor 12,395th time a case has been dropped for medical and/or extenuating reasons. They are all the time, and for ordinary, average citizens, in the name of fairness.

Joe Azar is a Columbia, S.C. businessman and former mayoral candidate. To subscribe to his newsletter on Columbia, S.C. political issues, email him here.