COLUMBIA, S.C. — News19 is partnering with the Columbia Urban League Young Professionals with WLTX's Darci Strickland as moderator for the September 14 event at 7 p.m. in Allen University's Historic Chappelle Auditorium.
WLTX invited each of the four candidates to attend the upcoming City of Columbia Mayoral Forum but only three agreed to take part: Moe Baddourah, Councilwoman Tameika Isaac-Devine and Sam Johnson. The fourth candidate, Daniel Rickenmann, declined the invite to participate in the forum due to a previously scheduled trip.
Earlier this year, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin announced he was not running for a fourth term. That news opened the door for candidates looking to replace the city first black mayor, but who are the candidates and what do they stand for?
News19’s Brandon Taylor recently sat down with the candidates participating in the forum and asked them the same 5 questions.
On Wednesday, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin endorsed 33-year-old lawyer Sam Johnson to be his replacement. Johnson was a former campaign aide to Benjamin and SC Rep. Anton Gun.
Johnson says he’s the best candidate for the job because he has fresh ideas to tackle the city’s biggest issues.
Meet Sam Johnson.
WHO ARE YOU?
"I'm the son of a truck driver and an Alzheimer's nurse,” said Johnson. “My mom is from Ridgeway and my dad is from Winnsboro. They moved to Columbia when I was born, so I'm really the product of two individuals who are passionate about their son, having the opportunity to live up to his God-given potential."
“At the end of the day, I'm somebody who is passionate about Columbia and is proud to be a product of this community and the city. I’ve had some amazing opportunities and I’m thankful for them.”
WHY DO YOU WANT THE JOB?
“I look at my lived experience as someone who has lived through watching my father start a janitorial business,” said Johnson. “I've cleaned up offices and emptied trash cans. I've had an opportunity to work for a small business. I talk about investing, creating jobs and making sure that our small minority businesses have the resources that they need, making sure that we're able to create more opportunities for them. I'm passionate about those issues."
WHAT YOUR VISION FOR THE CITY?
"Quite simply, I want our children to be able to live up to their God-given potential,” said Johnson. "I want to make sure that we are the safest city possible. I want to make sure that here in Columbia, we have all the intangibles. That we check the box as it relates to quality of life.”
“Imagine a Columbia where you're able to see our riverfront develop,” said Johnson. “Imagine a Columbia where you know that public safety is tantamount, where you know, that we are investing in our police officers, where you have a fully staffed department. Imagine a Columbia where you know that there are opportunities for you.”
WHAT’S YOUR PLATFORM?
"We have been very active during the course of this campaign,” said Johnson. “We've put out policy, we've put out our initial public safety plan in April and now we've put out our all points strategy to end gun violence."
"We've been very focused on public safety and making sure that we have introduced mental health to our police department,” said Johnson. “Making sure that we get guns off the street, recognizing that we have too many guns that are just victimizing our kids. We've been very focused on making sure that our police department has the resources that they need to do their job.”
“We've also been focused on, for example, economic development,” said Johnson. “How do we create the type of Columbia where we're using all the natural assets we have here? We have tremendous opportunities with healthcare technology and insurance technology. We've got to make sure that we are incubating those opportunities.”
WHY ARE YOU THE BEST CANDIDATE FOR THE JOB?
"I'm unique. I've had an opportunity to start my career in the Mayor's office,” said Johnson. “I know what it's like to face those challenges. I know what it's like to watch the mayor wrestle with issues like our flood, the riots and different challenges that we've all had to deal with during a pandemic. I've seen those things up close. Alternatively, I'm the only person in this race who has that experience."
Johnson is currently an advisor on staff at Nexsen Pruet. He has been involved with numerous Columbia organizations, including South Carolina Afterschool Alliance, Nickelodeon Theatre, Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center (Experience Columbia), Midlands Technical College’s Human Services, Teach for America, Harvest Hope Food Bank, SC State Museum and Senior Resources.
Johnson and wife Ashley are parents to a daughter.
The 2021 election will be held Tuesday, November 2.
News19 wants to know what questions you have for the candidates.
Text your questions to (803) 776-9508, and don’t forget to include your name. Your questions might be asked during the WLTX Mayoral Forum on September 14.