By Sarah Ellis and Katie West
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin has been elected to serve a second term, defeating Councilman Moe Baddourah, according to preliminary election results.
With the majority of precincts reporting, results showed Benjamin beating Baddourah with nearly two-thirds of the vote, WIS and WLTX reported.
"So often people expect elected officials to run from their record," Benjamin said. "We ran straight toward our record."
Elsewhere in the Midlands, an upset appeared in the making in Lexington, with Steve MacDougall leading incumbent Mayor Randy Halfacre by fewer than 20 votes.
Richland County voters approved letting the county library system borrow up to $59 million for facilities improvements. The estimated cost to the owner of a $100,000 home is $12 to $14 a year additional in property taxes.
And in Columbia, voters re-elected City Council incumbents Tameika Isaac Devine, Sam Davis and Leona Plaugh.
With Tuesday's victory, Benjamin could now become the Columbia's first strong mayor. Voters will decide in a Dec. 3 referendum, which Benjamin has loudly supported. Making the mayor the city's chief executive would replace the current system where the council hires a city manager to run day-to-day operations.
Benjamin and Baddourah spoke to their supporters at separate downtown gatherings after the results came in.
The mayor touted his record in his last four years in office and his stance in favor of the strong-mayor conversion as keys to his re-election.
"It's my job to make sure that Columbia is a city where every single child — regardless of parentage, regardless of heritage, regardless of what zip code they live in, regardless of gender — have every opportunity that my babies have," Benjamin said in his victory speech. "Every child. We have to work to build that city of hope together."
Benjamin's camp set up at the new Sheraton convention center downtown, where jazz music and a relaxed atmosphere greeted guests that included U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and Benjamin's neighbor Frank Martin, head coach of USC's men's basketball team.
Clyburn said he has been a mentor to Benjamin and has known the mayor since Benjamin was a student at USC. He said Benjamin's win is just "phase one" for the city moving forward, looking ahead to next month's strong-mayor vote.
"We've got to suit up again and clinch the deal on the future, growth and government of this great city," Clyburn said.
Just a few miles away from Benjamin's celebration, Baddourah greeted each person one by one at his uncle Andy Shlon's restaurant, Andy's Deli, in Five Points, where about 20 friends and supporters had gathered.
"I think we did well for the resources we've received in the past six months," Baddourah said after his defeat had been sealed. "I wish I had more resources when it comes to a little bit of money. But all in all, I am really thrilled and honored to handshake over 10,000 people in the city."
As his 3-year-old son, Zeke, cried and asked, "Daddy, did you win? Did you win?" Baddourah held him and said, "It's OK to lose sometimes."
Baddourah will maintain his seat as the City Council District 3 representative. He said he is ready to move forward to "make this council work a little bit better."
"I can't wait to sit down and find out how we're going to pay for Bull Street. I can't wait to sit down and figure out how we're going to improve our safety," he said.
Voter turnout appeared to be slow but steady across Columbia on Tuesday.
As of early afternoon, there had been no reported issues with voting machines, unlike the presidential election of 2012 when numerous problems produced hours-long lines at Richland County polling places.
Maureen Morris, who voted at Marion Street Apartment Complex in Ward 2, said she would rather not have to interrupt her work schedule another day, but she'd be back to vote on the strong-mayor referendum.
Benjamin, who spent much of the day visiting polling places, said he thought the Dec. 3 election was influencing people's voting because they wanted to know who would be in office before the strong-mayor decision was made.
Reports from the Polls (click on each line for story)
|Crime, safety important to Ward 1 voters|| Voting slow at Ward 2, but voters say they'll be back Dec. 3
|At Ward 8, Benedict student leader encourages classmates to vote|| At Ward 9, as much social gathering as election
|Mayor Steve Benjamin visits Ward 10 voters||Unlike some precincts, Ward 11 busy early|
|Ward 12 voters not looking ahead to Dec. 3||Ward 13 voters give their election predictions|
|Ward 14 voters have painless time at polls
||Ward 15 poll worker says race still in play|
|Voting is slow but steady in Ward 16||At Ward 23, Benjamin works the polls late into Election Day
|Ward 30 turnout slows after noon||Ward 32 voters say give mayor more power|
| Voters are few in Ward 33