“Well, hello Columbia!”
Those were the first words that Mayor-Elect Steve Benjamin said into the microphone Tuesday night when he greeted a jubilant crowd at his official campaign party held at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
The evening began early, around 6:30p.m., with a number of local news broadcast crews and newspaper journalists establishing themselves in the optimal location to capture the evening’s events. Within the next hour and a half, the crews had grown to nearly 1,000 supporters. The atmosphere continued to grow with excitement as the first poll numbers were released, showing Benjamin the leader by 200 votes. But there was a long way to go, as only five precincts were in.
Over the next hour, the margin between the candidates widened as more precincts closed and votes were reported. With each poll update announcement, the cheers grew louder and louder as the crowd anticipated what seemed to be, a clear victory.
Announce 8:20pm, WISTV made the official announcement that Steve Benjamin had been elected the next mayor of Columbia. Upon hearing those words, the crowd of supporters burst into exuberant cheering and dancing. More cheers ensured when it was announced that opponent, Kirkman Finley, had conceded the race, and had left out of the back door of his campaign party to go home.
As the band continued to play, and the crowd chanted, “Hey Steve Benjamin”, word came that Benjamin was expected to arrive within minutes. The crowd began to push to the front of the room in search of a location to greet the newly-elected mayor.
Shortly after a second announcement was made, Benjamin entered the Richland ballroom and pressed his way to the front podium, with his wife and daughters at his side.
“Well, hello Columbia,” Benjamin said amid cheers from his friends and supporters. In a 15-minute carefully-crafted speech, Benjamin thanked his ‘beautiful wife and girls’, parents, campaign staff of 300, church family and numerous volunteers and supporters, ‘people who believed in the promise of this city.’
“The people of Columbia spoke, and together we made history,” Benjamin said as he addressed his supporters. “We made history today, not because of race. We made history because people responded to a message of unity, hope and promise. We are one city. ONE Columbia.”
While Benjamin downplayed the significance of his election, the sentiment of the moment was not lost on the crowd.
“My prediction came true,” said Columbia political analyst and activist, Jim Felder. “I never thought I’d see the day that white people in Columbia would elect a black man for mayor. This is a new generation. Now I can retire and not worry.”
City Councilman Sam Davis said, “This demonstrates that Columbia can do what Steve has been talking about in his campaign. Everyone had a role to play. The voters have made a choice.”
Among the crowd at Benjamin’s campaign party were Jim Rex, Vincent Sheheen, Representative Todd Rutherford, Rep. Bakari Sellers, City Councilman Sam Davis, Attorney Bobby Gist, Cynthia Hardy of Maxim Communications and OnPoint radio show and many other noteworthy Columbia citizens.
Benjamin concluded his speech by saying, “Campaigns are full of promises. Governing is full of challenges. Tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow we work. I pledge to make sure that we all work together.”