For the first time in the history of South Carolina’s capital city, voters in Columbia selected a black mayor on Tuesday. Mayor-Elect Steve Benjamin was overwhelmingly elected and aggressively courted the LGBT vote, South Carlolina LGBT activists tell Rod 2.0.
Benjamin received 10,784 votes (56 percent) in a runoff, beating city Councilman Kirkman Finlay III, who got 8,558 votes (44 percent) with just a few precincts remaining, according to the Richland County Election Commission’s website. Benjamin won the initial election two weeks ago by about 1,000 votes, but fell well short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff. It’s the first major political win for Benjamin, a 40-year-old father of 5- and 2-year-old girls considered a rising star in Democratic politics in South Carolina. He spent three years running the South Carolina Department of Probation, Pardon and Parole, leaving the agency for an unsuccessful run for attorney general in 2002. Benjamin defeated a familiar name in Columbia politics. Finlay is the son of former Columbia Mayor Kirkman Finlay Jr., who served from 1978 to 1986. Benjamin replaces Mayor Bob Coble, who decided to step down after two decades in office.
And problems already for the mayor-elect. Only hours after his election, Benjamin was involved in a car crash on while on his way to an early morning television interview. The new mayor was not harmed but the driver is said to be in serious condition.
Early on, the candidate began courting LGBT voters, South Carolina activists tell Rod 2.0 Benjamin's gay fundraisers were prominently highlighted on his campaign webpage and he went out of his way to address LGBT issues and events. Columbia's Pink Party reportedly raised about $16,500 for the campaign.
Columbia-based Alvin McEwen blogs at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters and is one of the state's leading black gay activists. "Steve made a huge outreach to Columbia's LGBT community including speaking at the community center," Alvin tells Rod 2.0. "The lgbt community held several fundraisers for him. It's not far-fetched to Say that the community played an huge role in his victory."
"It could have also cost him votes from his religious base," another South Carolina tells R20. "My hat's off to him."
In related news: Columbia continues to grapple with an HIV/AIDS funding crisis. The GOP-dominated legislature has proposed cut the entire AIDS budget, including funding to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Columbia has the 9th highest HIV rate in the nation. New infections are disproportionately young black gay and bisexual men. More at our last piece for Black AIDS Weekly, "Recession Forces States to Slash ADAP".