#ColumbiaSC: Council Candidates Face Off

High stakes race for control of South Carolina’s capital city …

City of Columbia, South Carolina councilman Sam Davis and his challenger, Chris Sullivan, squared off against each other last week at an event sponsored by a local community coalition.  The event was held at the Ed Mason Hall at College Place United Methodist Church – located in heart of the city’s impoverished first district.

Davis has represented this district since 1998.

He is backed by some powerful interests in his bid to retain the seat, too, as this news site has noted in its previous coverage.

Sparks flew early and often in this first encounter between the two candidates.  Davis maintained that the capital city is making significant progress under his leadership.  Meanwhile Sullivan countered that the city’s leadership has lost its way and has been focusing too much of its attention on non-essential governmental activities.

Sullivan raised the issue of public safety – citing an estimated 70-plus vacancies at the city’s police department.  Richland County, S.C. sheriff Leon Lott has a waiting list of people eager to fill those vacancies, we’re told.

“These are knowledgeable people with significant law enforcement experience (who) believe that problem is the culture,” a source familiar with the situation told us. “While Columbia has been playing musical chairs with police chiefs, the same old command structure remains in place. Just like in politics, to change the culture you have to change the people.”

Another contentious issue raised during the debate was the spectacularly failed Bull Street development – which this news site has repeatedly criticized as a command economic development boondoggle.  Picking up our line of attack against crony capitalism, Sullivan argued city taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to foot the bill for projects like this that provide a narrow benefit to big-time developers.

Sullivan added that none of the businesses touted in association with the project have located on the mostly abandoned property.

(Click to view)


Davis countered that Bull Street is “a long-term project” – one he believes will pay off in the future for taxpayers.  He declined, however, to offer any specifics about when businesses might open up shop on the property – or which businesses may have already signed letters of intent to locate on the site.

That’s telling …

The two candidates also talked about the state of the city’s finances.  For years on end (including earlier this year), Davis has voted in favor of increasing city taxes and fees – including increasing water and sewer rates on the poor in his community.

“These are some of the most regressive tax hikes a council can make,” one city resident watching the debate told us.  “These increases hit our low-income citizens the hardest, and Davis represents one of the poorest areas of the city.”

Of interest?  One of Davis’ advisors, Dalton Tresvant, attended the debate and at one point injected himself into the discussion.  Sullivan called him out, explaining that Tresvant was one of Davis’ political advisors and a minion of powerful U.S. congressman Jim Clyburn.

The exchange between Sullivan and Tresvant highlighted an interesting subtext of this campaign.

As we noted previously, Davis is a rock solid vote on city council for corrupt Columbia, S.C. mayor Steve Benjamin.  According to our sources, Benjamin and Clyburn have become exceedingly nervous that Davis may lose his seat.

As a result they have gone “all in” against Sullivan – and are reportedly preparing to launch a major offensive against him.

As we noted in earlier post, Clyburn – the Godfather of Democratic politics in the state – is pulling out all the stops to beat Sullivan, calling local elected officials and telling them to close ranks around Davis’ candidacy.  It’s also interesting to note that the folks who make big bucks off of city projects are lining up behind Davis as well.

While this is not surprising in itself, what it means is that the leadership is worried that Sullivan’s campaign may be gaining traction.

Even the prestigious McNair law firm – which does bond work for the city – and John Lumpkin, a key player in many of the dubious projects the city has funded over the years, have been backing Davis.  And as we previously reported, former Columbia mayor Bob Coble hosted an event earlier this year for Davis at the law firm of Nexsen Pruet.

As previously reported, city elections are usually low turnout affairs – with less than one in five eligible voters participating.  In other words, these races are basically turnout drills for each candidate.



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