Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An open letter to Steve Benjamin by Aaron Johnson

An Open Letter to Steve Benjamin

By Aaron Johnson

Mayor Benjamin,

It has come to my attention that you intend to withdraw from the press. In your own words, you no longer plan to make yourself as “open and available” as much as you “might have been.” You even reportedly went so far as to say “the Hell with it.”

There are lots of reasons for we, the people of Columbia, to be upset about this. For starters, your campaign was based on being “open and transparent.” There’s an entire section on your campaign website, which is still online at, called “Transparency in Government.”

In your own website’s words:

“For some politicians, talk of transparency has been a way to score quick political points through hollow promises and empty gestures.”

Seems to ring true, so far. Let’s read on:

“For Steve, governmental transparency is about living up to that most fundamental commitment: any institution engaged on the public’s behalf must be open to public participation and scrutiny, and people deserve the truth.”

Okay, so maybe now we’re starting to move into more of a gray area...

Look, Steve, I understand. I know that your campaign promises were merely means to an end. You’ve made it pretty clear that you never intended to keep any of your promises about transparency or balancing the budget or keeping you and your wife unemployed throughout your tenure of service as mayor. I know that a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do to get elected in this day and age.

And there are plenty of reasons for the public to be really upset at you for throwing a huge hissy fit that embarrasses the entire city of Columbia and the office you are honored to hold. After all, here you are, a public official and the ambassador of the capital of one of the United States of America, saying that you don’t think the public has a right to question you or have access to you. And you’ve managed to do this in a very undignified manner.

It’s making us all scratch our heads. Like when you said, “the Hell with it.” The Hell with what? The Hell with the freedom of the press? The Hell with the people of Columbia, who deserve openness and access to their leaders? In hindsight, it seems like The Hell With It is the attitude you’ve taken with every campaign promise you’ve made! Perhaps it should be your campaign slogan in 2014. It definitely has a better ring to it than “Bold New Leadership.”

Okay, I’ll stop teasing. Honestly, I’m not going to hold any of that stuff against you. I mean, you are a politician. What did we expect? Really, it’s all well and good, water under the bridge, let bygones be bygones, all that jazz.

And yet... there’s still one thing still really cheeses me off and, I’m sorry, but I’ve just got to hold your feet to the fire about this.

Where the Hell was my shout-out?

I mean, come on. You’re sitting there giving the Free Times and The State and SC Black News all this free publicity because you think they’ve slighted you, but seriously! Have you even read any of the articles in Columbia City Paper the past few months?

Prior to the election, the mainstream media issued fluff piece after fluff piece in your honor. You were hailed as a bright and shining ray of hope in Columbia. You received endorsements up the wazoo and nobody seemed to be concerned with your entrenchment in the world of payday lending or shady real estate deals. Meanwhile, Columbia City Paper was hot on the trail, with nuggets of real, toothy journalism like these:

April 12, 2010: Village at River’s Edge project continues to raise eyebrows

By Todd Morehead

Todd Morehead detailed the $1.5 million that the city kicked in for your development project, the close proximity to former city manager, Charles Austin, as well as the $10 million HUD loan it received through the Columbia Housing Authority. (The CHA that oversees the majority of the development of affordable housing in Columbia and also has a board member related to your in-laws.)

April 22, 2010:  A House Divided

By Todd Morehead

Morehead further detailed how some developers can cash out big by utilizing city and government grants under the banner of building affordable housing.

Since you were elected, the rest of the press in this town has cooled its heels and failed to pursue any of the transgressions you’ve made with any rigor. The Free Times, The State and most of the TV stations in town pretty much looked the other way while you broke several campaign promises and engaged in some unsavory practices. Meanwhile, look what we were up to at Columbia City Paper:

August 4, 2010: How Key Democrats Bought A “Non-Partisan” Council Seat

By Paul Blake

Paul Blake detailed how key Democrats gave donations that were well over the legal limit by carefully timing the donation of a second $1,000.00 immediately after the election.  At least one favor was returned when you declared July 28 as James Clyburn Day and gave away a key to our “famously hot” city to the U.S. House Majority Whip.

September 9, 2010: Wukela’s End Game

By Aaron Johnson

I like how in the Free Times article about your new “closed door policy” you chose to fire off about how Kevin Fisher was mean to you. Fisher?! My Wukela column was way more inflammatory than his! And I wrote mine first!  WACH Fox 57 picked it up and Fisher’s article was simply a column about my column. I was the original bad ass, here.

September 15, 2010: Believe in Steve:  An ode to our Fearless Leader

By Aaron Johnson

Steve, you’ll have to read this one closely because it’s satirical.  I detailed your broken campaign promises to date, vis a vis: “balancing the budget, holding no other job than that of your public office, agreeing to have your wife step down from her position as a judge and agreeing to a hiring freeze that would preclude the municipal government from hiring anyone whose job description has not already been publicly posted by the city manager as of his candidacy.”

September 24, 2010: Lets Move Into That “New Era Of Leadership”

By Grant Robertson

Robertson was actually a little encouraging here, and wanted you to be a leader and make a decision based on the Hospitality District Safety Task Force instead of pulling the classic non-committal maneuver of paying outside consultants to tell you what decisions to make.

September 29, 2010: So, you want to ruin a community?

By Aaron Johnson

I consider this to be my piece de resistance. I wrote a full-length cover story in the form of a primer detailing how the City of Columbia has become a leading authority on how to destroy a community.  There was a handy acronym COLA that your administration inspired:

Combat the Arts.

Oppress the Youth.

Lie, and Lack a Plan.

Assault Small Business.

Look. All I’m saying is, I’ve been really busting my ass to try to point out all the myriad of ways in which you’ve deceived the public throughout your campaign and I think I deserve at least a footnote the next time you have a messy temper tantrum with the press.

If the general public agrees with me, I encourage them to let you know. I’m sure that, despite your best efforts, they will find some way to get in touch with you and ask you to keep your campaign promise of openness and transparency.

And, hey, if it makes you feel any better, at least in my book, you’re one of the most transparent politicians in the state of South Carolina. Anyone who’s really been paying attention can see right through you.


Aaron Johnson


  1. I guess I would be mad too if Steve Benjamin slaughtered me in the election.

  2. It all depends on your metrics. Benjamin spent about $66.66 per vote, I spent about $7.00 per vote.

    But yeah, he did slaughter me by pretty much every other metric.

  3. I plan to be extremely “open and available” to whomever runs against him next time around. Benjamin should NEVER have been elected. Columbia will suffer greatly from not taking advantage of Bob Coble's long awaited retirement to get better leadership for itself.

  4. Aaron, thank you again for another great article!

  5. [...] [...]