COLUMBIA S.C. – During a press conference held today, February 4, in Columbia City Council chambers, Mayor Steve Benjamin announced he would not run for re-election during this year’s upcoming election. During the press conference, which was also livestreamed for public viewing, Mayor Benjamin also addressed rumors and speculation and announced he did not intend to run for South Carolina governor during the 2022 gubernatorial election.
Mayor Benjamin was elected as Columbia’s 36th mayor in 2010, and by the end of his current third term will have served as mayor for the City of Columbia for nearly 12 years. Mayor Benjamin was re-elected in 2013, and was unopposed in 2017.
When Mayor Benjamin was first elected in April of 2010, Columbia had suffered years of financial loss, the City’s financial reserves had been depleted and had not officially closed its books during the previous two years. The City had slashed public safety funding, closing two fire stations and cutting police funding, and had furloughed City staff.
Upon taking office, Mayor Benjamin eliminated over $1 Million in non-essential, vacant positions and established a new budgeting approach, while also promising total transparency in City financial operations. By the end his first term in office, the City of Columbia had restored its reserve fund and improved its credit rating, while eliminating employee furloughs and also giving all city employees their first cost of living pay increase in four years.
Budget accomplishments during his first term included refinancing city bonds and saving taxpayers over $8 million, and helping reduce the city’s payroll by $4.5 million without resorting to layoffs or pay cuts.
Over his term serving as Mayor of Columbia, the City has also:
- Incurred budget surpluses in 8 of the last 11 years
- Cut property taxes by over 12 mills over the last decade
- Revitalized Main Street, seeing nearly two billion dollars in downtown capital investment
- Launched the Bull Street Development project, a 20-year transformation of one of the largest tracts of undeveloped urban land on the East Coast into a new business, retail and residential district
- Returned professional baseball to Columbia with the formation of the Columbia Fireflies and opening of Segra Park, designated as stadium of the decade by Ballpark Digest.
- Invested nearly three quarters of a billion dollars in water, sewer & stormwater infrastructure improvements.
- Received the 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, & 2019 GFOA Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.
- Fully restored the city’s reserve fund, which was hit hard during the financial crisis.
- Issued the nation’s first stand-alone stormwater green bonds to be certified by the Climate Bond Initiative & opened the doors of the city’s first LEED Gold-certified building.
- Led Columbia to become the first city in the nation to ban the attachment of bump stocks and trigger cranks to firearms within city limits.
- Increased Police Department funding by more than 75% percent & invested in 21st Century Policing by establishing the Justice for All initiative for greater community engagement, diversity, training and accountability for law enforcement.
Further, Mayor Benjamin led Columbia and its citizens through natural disasters and crises, including the 1,000-year flood in 2015. Mayor Benjamin and City Council rapidly responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by establishing the Midlands Coronavirus Task Force in early March 2020, declaring a State of Emergency, enacting a curfew, closing City office buildings and making City Council meetings virtual, enacting a mask ordinance and other emergency measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
In addition to serving as Mayor of Columbia, Mayor Benjamin also served as the 2018-2019 President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and as Chairman for Municipal Bonds for America, President of the African-American Mayors Association from 2015-2016, Vice President of the Global Parliament of Mayors in 2019, member of the Federal Communications Commission’s Intergovernmental Advisory Committee, member of the Accelerator for America Advisory Council and Co-Chair of the Mayors for 100% Clean Energy campaign. Additionally, Mayor Benjamin co-chaired the Pandemic Resilience Working Group for America’s Mayors with former South Bend, Ind. Mayor and now US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Through the achievements listed above, and many more, Mayor Benjamin has been instrumental elevating the City’s stature in the region and across the country, as has been noted in national publications:
In 2018 Columbia was named:
• One of the Best Small Cities in the U.S. by National Geographic Travel (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/features/best-small-cities-united-states/;
• The #2 City Where Millennials Are Moving by Smart Asset (https://smartasset.com/mortgage/where-are-millennials-moving-2018-edition), Columbia is #4 on the 2019 list
• In 2018, named one of The Washington Post’s Top Ten Destinations for white, black, Hispanic and Asian individuals who moved between 2012-2016 (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/01/18/the-top-10-places-people-are-moving-and-how-their-choices-differ-by