Who really gets things done in the Midlands? We’re not just talking about the CEOs and mayors — though some of them undeniably hold serious power — but the under-the-radar movers and shakers, faces you’d never recognize if you were standing in line with them at Drake’s Duck-In. We also probe outside the realms of business and government, looking to the arts, tourism, hospitality and beyond. That’s what our annual power list is about — and checking out who rose, who fell, who’s in and who’s out. What did we get right? Wrong? Let us know: Email firstname.lastname@example.org. — Eva Moore
Jordan Lawrence, Eva Moore and Chris Trainor contributed to this piece.
1. Steve Benjamin ↑1
Sure, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin wields a ton of clout here in the Capital City. He sets the pace on Columbia City Council, and he was just sworn in for his third term as mayor after being unopposed at the polls in 2017. But this year Benjamin also has ascended to a loftier position, one that is bolstering his budding national profile: In May, he became the president of the U.S. Council of Mayors, a nonpartisan group made up of mayors from cities of 30,000 or larger that advocates on issues affecting municipalities nationwide. Yes, he’s now the Mayor of Mayors. The yearlong post will likely bring Columbia national attention it wouldn’t have received otherwise, and further cement Benjamin’s status as the Capital City’s mover-and-shaker-in-chief.
2. Leon Lott ↓1
He’s been the county’s top lawman for 22 years, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The Democratic Lott also remains probably the most popular politician in the Midlands, and hasn’t faced a real threat at the ballot box in years. For better or worse, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department also has remained in the national spotlight because of its role on the still-buzzed-about A&E reality show Live PD, which draws millions of viewers nationwide every Friday and Saturday night. Often the biggest personality in the room, Lott has even played nice with the Columbia Police Department. The sheriff’s department and CPD recently put together a joint task force to go after some of the area’s most violent criminals.
3. Harris Pastides ↑4
Will the University of South Carolina ever stop growing? It shows no signs of doing so, gobbling up undergraduate enrollees, research dollars and Columbia real estate like nobody’s business. Harris Pastides has been USC’s president for the past decade, during which time the USC Honors College has become the No. 1 public honors college in the nation, and the school has raised more than $1 billion in its ongoing capital campaign. He’s popular among students, too: A sort of Cult of Pastides has sprung up. USC clearly wants to keep him around a few more years — in the fall, they upped his pay package to $1.1 million a year.
4. Jim Clyburn ↑7
Yes, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn is still doing his thing. At age 77, he’s the third most powerful Democrat in the U.S. House. There’s perennial talk about who’ll replace him when he goes, but the simple fact is that anybody who represents the Sixth Congressional District is not going to wield anywhere near the sway over the national party or earmarking abilities of the man from Orangeburg. Not for a long time.
5. Dick Harpootlian NEW
This has been the Year of Dick. The brash, outspoken attorney has seized headlines with his efforts to clean up what he sees as out-of-control bad behavior in Five Points. He advocated heavily (and, ultimately, unsuccessfully) for shutting down bars in the city at 2 a.m., challenged the liquor licenses of two Five Points watering holes, and sued another four bars because, among other things, they violated city code by being too close to one another. He also took credit for a SLED raid in which more than a dozen bars in Five Points received citations for serving liquor after 2 a.m., and was successful in helping block Zaxby’s and Macado’s from setting up shop in the nightlife-and-shopping district. Oh, and now the Wales Garden resident and former state Democratic Party chairman is running for the state Senate seat long held by Sen. John Courson. Stay tuned.
6. Bill Stangler ↑2
Cleaning up the area’s rivers is key to our tourism and development future, and Stangler is making that happen. The leader of Congaree Riverkeeper is a tireless advocate for Columbia’s rivers and tributaries, but in 2018 Stangler enjoyed a particularly sweet victory: Following a bitter, yearslong fight — one in which the Riverkeeper was often at the tip of the spear — the sewage discharge from the former Carolina Water Service wastewater treatment plant near I-20 officially came to an end, as the Town of Lexington acquired that plant and tied its customers into a regional system. Stangler has also been instrumental in the Midlands Rivers Coalition’s efforts to monitor water quality and issue swimming advisories on the Broad, Saluda and Congaree rivers during the past two summers.
7. Melanie Huggins ↑6
Yes, some people still ask why there aren’t as many books as there used to be, but the Richland Library shines as an example of the modern resource a public library system can be. The main branch downtown has concluded its renovations, offering studio and performance spaces, media technology and more, while continuing updates to smaller branches bring similar access to various county neighborhoods. Executive Director Melanie Huggins has the library pushing purposefully into the future — as the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Science on their shelf attests.
8. Henry McMaster ↓5
You’d think the governor of the state, a man who’s been in one state office or another since time began and who owns properties all around Columbia, would be at the top of this list. But since ascending to the office he’s long coveted last year, Henry McMaster has largely been a caretaker governor, bestirring himself only to run for re-election. He wasn’t able to avoid a runoff election in the Republican primary — he faces John Warren next week — and even if he wins, it hasn’t been the sort of primary that strengthens an incumbent.
9. Skip Holbrook ↑3
Perhaps one of the greatest displays of the Columbia police chief’s power? He still works here. Before Holbrook arrived four years ago, the city’s top cop position had seen a rapid-fire succession of chiefs and interim chiefs, and the department continually grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons. But Holbrook has long since calmed the department, and has deftly walked the line between heading up a crime fighting agency and navigating the treacherous waters of City Council and the bureaucracy at City Hall. And, under new rules from City Council, Holbrook’s department will likely be much more active in watching over bars that bend (or break) the rules in Five Points, as CPD will now administer the city’s late-night alcohol permits.
10. Dawn Staley ↓6
There was no repeat national championship in 2018 for the University of South Carolina’s women’s basketball team, but Staley remains the most beloved coach in town. The program continues to command the country’s highest attendance for women’s college basketball, with two ESPN 100 commits on the way to energize the team next season. Away from the Gamecocks’ sideline, Staley keeps trucking as the coach of the USA national team and as a potent influence on her many passionate fans.
11. James Smith NEW
Polls? What polls? Despite numbers that showed a tight race, James Smith, a former state legislator who represented Columbia for the last 22 years, clobbered his opponents in the Democratic gubernatorial primary last week and now gets to spend the next five months trying to convince red-state voters that he could be the man in charge. He essentially became the face of South Carolina Democrats overnight. Whether or not he makes anything happen this fall, Smith will give the always-an-underdog party something to rally around in 2018.
12. Todd Rutherford ↑29
Todd Rutherford doesn’t appear to be one of those people who loses sleep over things: He says it, the press goggles slightly and reports it, and Rutherford moves on. As the S.C. House Minority Leader, he’s always got a snappy soundbite about why Republicans are the worst; and as a defense attorney, he’s always going to the bat for the indigent and downtrodden. He also scored a major victory by loudly backing Byron Gipson in his successful bid to unseat Dan Johnson as Fifth Circuit Solicitor. More than most state lawmakers, Rutherford is out in the community making things happen, and that — not necessarily the S.C. House — is where his real power lies.
13. Teresa Wilson ↑3
The city manager’s job isn’t easy. Six years into her role as the City of Columbia’s top administrator, Wilson has become quite skilled at heading up a workforce of more than 2,000 employees and attending to the whims of an ever-mercurial City Council. Wilson always keeps her eye on the bottom line — the city is set to approve a balanced, $346 million operating budget for the next fiscal year, with no property tax increase — and during the last year she restructured the leadership team of the city’s water and wastewater division, which is a critical arm of the municipal government that is currently overseeing hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades.
14. Ray Tanner ↑13
University of South Carolina sports are an economic engine for Columbia, bringing in visitors from across the state and nation for games of all types. For that reason alone, Tanner wields significant influence as USC’s athletics director. But he also heads up an athletic department that has seen plenty of success on the field and court recently. The football team surprised everyone in 2017, winning nine games. The women’s basketball team backed up a 2017 national championship with a trip to the 2018 Elite Eight. The softball team advanced to the Super Regionals for only the second time ever. And the hiring of Mark Kingston as the new baseball coach looks to have been a smart move: A year after missing the NCAA Tournament, the baseball team returned to the Super Regionals this season. When viewed across the spectrum of the entire sports program, USC has been very competitive in the Southeastern Conference, and nationally.
15. Hugh Leatherman ↑2
While all of these candidates have been scrambling around running for governor the last few months, hoping to ascend to the alleged most powerful position in state government, Leatherman — the actual most powerful person in state government — was probably quietly chuckling to himself and plotting his next move, sort of like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. Indeed, the 87-year-old from Florence remains the Godfather of the state Senate. He’s the president pro tempore of the “upper chamber,” plus he’s the chairman of the Senate’s interstate cooperation committee and the overwhelmingly influential finance committee. If the Legislature didn’t get much done this year, maybe it’s because Leatherman didn’t want it to.
16. Shane Massey ↑3
As the Senate Majority Leader, Shane Massey has brought fresh energy to the Senate GOP, yet managed to avoid too much factionalization. He’s in leadership but maintains his reputation as a reformer. It wasn’t exactly a shining year for lawmakers: The State House’s failure to do anything about SCE&G this past session is a millstone around Massey’s neck — and endorsing Catherine Templeton, who finished third in the GOP primary, was a bit of an odd move, but it’s unlikely to slow Massey down for long.
17. Alan Wilson ↑6
At times, it’s almost seemed like Alan Wilson is trying to shoot himself in the foot — like a cry for help or something, particularly his bizarre attempts to oust a special prosecutor from a State House corruption probe, which became fodder for his GOP primary opponents. Wilson narrowly failed to avoid a runoff, and will face S.C. Rep. Todd Atwater next week. But Wilson is smart when it comes to serving up red meat to South Carolinians, from opposing Obamacare and clean energy laws to suing the feds over immigration reform. He also reaches across the aisle when it comes to domestic violence and human trafficking reforms. And by golly, he’s the state’s top prosecutor — weakened, but still a force and a voice.
18. Tige Watts ↑2
Want to win a local council race? Lots of people turn to Tige Watts, whose Campaign Research + Strategy has quite the track record at getting people elected. This year, he worked for Chakisse Newton, who unseated Norman Jackson on Richland County Council, among other successful local candidates.
19. Lee Snelgrove ↑2
With One Columbia for Arts and History overseeing Amplify, the current effort to codify a cultural plan for the city, Executive Director Lee Snelgrove arguably holds more sway than ever over Columbia’s arts landscape. But when completed, that same cultural plan could well call for measures that reduce One Columbia’s position as the city’s chief arts champion and incubator.
20. Jay Lucas ↓2
After righting the ship after the departure of divisive S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell in 2014, Jay Lucas’ shine has faded a bit — and this year, the Legislature got remarkably little done even for them. He’s still the generally well-respected person who martials an entire chamber of lawmakers, though.
21. Howard Duvall NEW
While he’s far from flashy, Duvall, the at-large Columbia City Councilman and former state Municipal Association director, has a way of pushing the conversation at City Hall. It was Duvall who called for “quiet zones” to reduce the frequency of trains blowing their horns at all times of night in the city. It was also Duvall who ignited this year’s late-night bar debate when he said he wanted to end city permits that allowed bars to stay open past 2 a.m. That ultimately didn’t happen, but City Council did institute higher costs and stricter rules to obtain the permits.
22. Darrell Jackson ↑8
Darrell Jackson pastors Bible Way Church of Atlas Road, the area’s second largest megachurch. He runs Sunrise Communications, a prominent political communications firm. He’s been in the state Senate for a quarter of a century. He’s not a loud voice, but he’s always there, watching and making things happen.
23. Christy Hall ↓13
Last year the Legislature, for the first time in three decades, approved a gas tax increase, one that will eventually lead to the state having an additional $600 million annually for road repairs. As the state’s secretary of transportation, Hall is set to oversee those road projects as they come down the pipeline. The Abbeville County native is not a flashy headline grabber, and is generally well liked. It’s the kind of profile that helps her weather issues — like the recent temporary closure of a busy bridge over the Wando River near Charleston after a broken cable was discovered — without too much trouble.
24. Katrina Shealy NEW
Sometimes Katrina Shealy posts messages on Facebook explaining her vote in the state Senate that day. Sometimes she posts messages about her pet donkey. Whatever the case, she’ll garner hundreds of passionate, engaged comments from her constituents — the kind of folksy brand-building that’s impossible to fake. Shealy is still an outsider voice, having replaced Jake Knotts several years ago in the State House’s upper chamber, and she continues to be a perplexing but powerful voice there.
25. David Pascoe ↓19
Maybe First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe isn’t done indicting people in the State House corruption scandal. But so far, the special prosecutor has landed some big fish and, well, sort of left them flopping around in the bottom of the boat. Richard Quinn, architect of a vast political consulting empire with some shady dealings, was basically let off as part of a plea deal by his son, Rep. Rick Quinn. Others, like Sen. John Courson and Rep. Jim Merrill, pleaded guilty to some low-key charges in exchange for their cooperation. Yes, lawmakers have had their State House careers ended. But it doesn’t really feel like we’ve yet rooted out the corruption in the halls of power or dissuaded people from doing it again.
26. Tameika Isaac Devine NEW
Those who follow the machinations of Columbia City Council know Devine is a sort of second-in-command to Mayor Steve Benjamin. She was first elected in 2002 (and was the first African-American elected at-large in the city’s history) and is now on her fifth term, making her the second longest tenured member on Council. She also keeps her toe in a number of other functions: She’s an attorney; her husband, Jamie, is on the Richland One school board; earlier this year she was appointed vice chairwoman of the National League of Cities Council on Youth, Education and Families; and she’s building her name as a guest speaker and conference organizer on topics from Christian marriage to work-life balance. Devine stays on the move, and it would not likely be a surprise if she ran for mayor in the future.
27. John Katz NEW
While the BullStreet project on the site of the former state mental hospital is still very much under development, one aspect of the venture — the Columbia Fireflies baseball team — seems to have found a solid foothold. The Class A team, which plays in the city’s sparkling Spirit Communications Park, draws hundreds of thousands of fans each season and quickly has become a part of summer in Columbia. Katz, the team’s president, has been the face of the Fireflies in the community, and leads the club’s efforts in providing a consistently stellar night of entertainment. He also is a member of the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism board.
28. Emile DeFelice ↑15
Week in, week out, the Soda City Market remains one of the Midlands’ biggest gatherings, the bustling Saturday morning engine that keeps local weekends humming. And now, with the addition of the Sunday Brookland Brunch each week in West Columbia, founder and organizer Emile DeFelice is building up similar influence across the river. A prickly sort, he’s most powerful when he lets his events do the talking — which he largely has for the past 12 months.
29. Fat Rat da Czar ↑21
This April, two of Columbia’s biggest, most distinct festivals — the Indie Grits film festival and multimedia celebration and the Hip-Hop Family Day block party — crowded into the same weekend. And while the former struggled to get folks out to events split between Eau Claire and Main Street, the latter — which has previously reported crowds in excess of 12,000 — had the street looking more packed than ever, celebrating ladies in hip-hop with headliner MC Lyte. Apart from being Hip-Hop Family Day’s public face and one of its key organizers, rapper and producer Fat Rat da Czar remains the genre’s most respected local voice, both over a beat and when it comes to advocating for the culture.
30. Steve MacDougall NEW
Things are changing in the heart of Lexington, and MacDougall, the town’s mayor, has been right in the middle of it. Downtown Lexington is having a renaissance, with a host of restaurants and bars opening there in the last couple of years and an extensive streetscaping project well underway. The centerpiece of the redevelopment is the popular Icehouse Amphitheater, a project that came to fruition under MacDougall’s watch. The mayor also was in the thick of the fight that led to the town acquiring the embattled Carolina Water Service I-20 wastewater plant, long a source of river pollution, and tying its customers into a regional treatment system.
31. Bakari Sellers ↑8
Wielding more power as a CNN talking head than he ever did as an S.C. House member or candidate for lieutenant governor, Bakari Sellers is increasingly a voice for national Democrats. Maybe he’ll use it as a springboard to a national stage.
32. Bobby Hitt ↓4
For years, South Carolina Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt has wooed really big businesses —BMW, Volvo, Samsung and many more — to South Carolina on the promise of cheap labor, low taxes, a friendly environment and a barely unionized workforce. Well, a sector of aerospace giant Boeing’s South Carolina workforce just voted to unionize, so we’ll see if that makes any dent in Hitt’s recruiting focus. Also, whereas Gov. Nikki Haley essentially built her message on South Carolina being open for business, Henry McMaster hasn’t made that a key focus, instead leaning on red-meat issues like sanctuary cities and abortion — despite the state topping ↓32 billion in export sales in 2017. Is Hitt’s star falling? Probably not, but it’s dimmed a bit.
33. Chris McLane NEW
Chris McLane is one of the chief talent buyers with AEG Presents Carolinas — which brings through many of the big concerts you see out at the Colonial Life Arena and Township Auditorium, and will also supply all the national touring acts for The Senate at Tin Roof, the large-scale rock club taking over the former Music Farm spot. He’s also the entertainment coordinator for St. Pat’s in Five Points and Famously Hot New Year. Nobody has a bigger impact on live music in Columbia.
34. Charles Jackson ↓5
The church that Rev. Dr. Charles B. Jackson Sr. helms — the 8,000-member-strong Brookland Baptist Church — is undeniably massive and powerful. Jackson, a West Columbia native, has built it over the past 47 years (he became pastor in 1971, straight out of high school) into a community force with its own federal credit union, its own housing development corporation, and its own pediatric center, and a banquet and conference center that hosts some pretty major events.
35. Vanessa Bialobreski ↓4
Over the past six years, Vanessa Driscoll Bialobreski has built a farm-to-table empire in Columbia. She’s managing partner and co-founder of F2T Productions, Management and Catering, which runs chef dinners, private events, classes and a nonprofit arm. She serves on several influential food boards, and recently won an award from Les Dames E’Escoffiers International. She’s now working to create a group for women in Columbia’s food and drink scene.
36. Sid Kenyon ↔
Routinely landing among the top earning college venues in the country, the Colonial Life Arena is on a real hot streak of late. Since last fall, Foo Fighters, The Weeknd, Janet Jackson, The Eagles, and Martin Lawrence have all performed, while Imagine Dragons, Chris Stapleton, Fleetwood Mac, P!NK, and Elton John (on his farewell tour, no less) are slated to play between this summer and next spring. Clearly, General Manager Sid Kenyon knows what he’s doing.
37. Aundrai Holloman ↓2
Over at the Township Auditorium, Columbia’s marquee theater space, Executive Director Aundrai Holloman is also enjoying another good year. The venue’s 2018 calendar has come dotted with names like Travis Tritt, Dwight Yoakam, Tony Bennett, Modest Mouse, Smokey Robinson, Plies, and a two-night stand from The Avett Brothers
38. Fielding Pringle ↑6
As Richland County’s chief public defender, Fielding Pringle is always having to fight for funding, office space and respect for the team that represents the county’s indigent defendants in court. But Pringle also laid the groundwork for Solicitor Dan Johnson’s recent ouster, in some ways, having successfully gotten a judge to throw out an unconstitutional ankle monitoring program run out of Johnson’s office, one of many doubts raised in the public’s mind even before he was hit with twin scandals about allegedly misspending public money and hassling female employees.
39. Matt Kennell ↑6
The 1600 block of Main Street is seriously booming, and the rest of the downtown corridor is doing pretty well, too. City Center Partnership President and CEO Matt Kennell has been the steady hand at Main Street’s tiller for the past 16-plus years, and it’s paying off.
40. Phill Blair ↔
Phill Blair books concerts, bringing high-quality indie acts to the Jam Room Music Festival (Guided by Voices, Superchunk, and The Mountain Goats have all performed, among others) and the Columbia Museum of Art’s quarterly Arts & Draughts. At the latter, he also puts the spotlight on regional breweries, helping stoke craft beer culture as he does expertly at The Whig, the ever-popular Main Street dive bar he co-owns. He was also one of the loudest voices speaking out against the recent effort to repeal special permits for Columbia bars to sell beer and wine after 2 a.m. The fees went up, but the permits aren’t going away.
41. Jeff March NEW
It seems inevitable that Columbia will always debate Famously Hot South Carolina Pride — whether it’s too focused on partying at the expense of politics, or relies too heavily on speeches. What’s certain is how important it is that our humble Southern city and state have such a visible LGBTQ organization and event keeping the community and its concerns at the fore of everyone’s minds. And with new efforts such as this month’s inaugural Outfest, Jeff March, Pride’s president, keeps pushing forward.
42. Micah Caskey NEW
It’s not often a rookie legislator moves the needle in Columbia. But Caskey, a Republican state representative from Lexington County, has managed to do so. An attorney who serves on the House judiciary committee, Caskey has grabbed some headlines for being openly critical of Gov. Henry McMaster. He overwhelmingly beat back a challenger in the June 12 GOP primary, assuring himself a second term. He also has the strongest Twitter game in the State House, often infusing his missives with brutal honesty and irreverent humor. His presence on social media has made him uncommonly visible for a legislator who is still early in his career.
43. Will Muschamp NEW
Even the most ardent Gamecocks fan would have to admit there were some reservations about Muschamp when he arrived in Columbia ahead of the 2016 season. His previous head coaching stop, at the University of Florida, had been a rocky experience. Plus, he was taking over a USC program that had been guided by Steve Spurrier, the winningest coach in school history. But after two years, it seems like Muschamp may be up to the challenge. The Gamecocks made a bowl in Muschamp’s first season, then exceeded all expectations in 2017 when they went 9-3 and beat traditional powerhouse Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Some early polls have USC ranked in the top 25 headed into the 2018 season, and 247 Sports has South Carolina ranked fifth in the 2019 recruiting rankings.
44. Lindsey Graham ↓30
Who even is Lindsey Graham anymore? Once a perceived truth teller with even Dems cheering him on, lately the U.S. senator from the Upstate has decided he’ll do better to make friends with President Donald Trump. In another politician, you might suspect a re-election strategy, but with Graham, maybe it genuinely is an effort to influence global policy. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in South Carolina, it’s to never, ever underestimate Lindsey Graham.
45. Dalhi Myers NEW
It only takes one visit to a Richland County Council meeting to see that they’re a mess when it comes to the most basic aspects of governing: parliamentary procedure, following directions, understanding what they’re voting on. Dalhi Myers, an attorney in the middle of her first full term representing Lower Richland on Council, is one of the few newer members who seems to know what’s going on. And increasingly, her calm, serious voice seems to be cutting through. You may not like her positions — she voted against firing administrator Gerald Seals and voted to keep Richland Renaissance going — but it’s undeniable that she’s a rising force on Council, and a strong voice for Lower Richland.
46. Raj Champaneri NEW
This Midlands hotelier, often the public face of his family’s budding hospitality empire, has been busy in recent years. The Champaneris’ Aloft hotel brought a touch of modern cool to the Vista, and they’ve got a Holiday Inn hotel planned for a 10-story building on the 1200 block of Washington Street. Champaneri also is changing the game over in Lexington: He’s planning a 90-100 room Marriott-branded hotel for the heart of Main Street in the small town’s emerging downtown district, just steps away from the popular Icehouse Amphitheater.
47. Kristin Cobb NEW
The Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College is a 400-seat space that sits in a small school in the suburbs. But you’d never know that by just looking at the schedule, which is dotted by high-profile musical acts (Steep Canyon Rangers and The Soul Rebels are coming this fall) to go along with original theater, internationally renowned dance and more. Kudos to Kristin Cobb, who took over as executive director last summer, for keeping Harbison on its game.
48. Bob and Matt Mundy NEW
This family’s development company is helping transform how the Columbia area looks. Perhaps the most visible example is just west of the Gervais Street bridge, where construction is well underway on the Brookland development. The hulking project will have more than 200 residential units, as well as commercial space (for instance, restaurateur Kristian Niemi is planning a rooftop restaurant and bar there), all overlooking the Congaree River. Meanwhile, Matt Mundy recently announced a solo project with the family development company, one in which he’ll oversee the creation of a multi-use luxury residential/commercial project in the heart of Devine Street’s retail district.
49. Seth Rose ↓15
Seth Rose has been a strong voice for ethics and transparency on Richland County Council. Now he’s moving up to the State House — where, as a new member of the minority party, he’ll be at the bottom of the totem pole. Rose was able to make a name on Council through constituent service and his outsider role, but in the House he’s going to be part of something a lot bigger. It remains to be seen whether he’ll have the skills to build consensus, work with his own and the other party, and generally fill the rather large shoes of Rep. James Smith.
50. Nikki Haley ↓9
No, she doesn’t live here anymore, having moved to New York City when she became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But Nikki Haley is the most powerful South Carolinian in the world. And frankly, she still casts a long shadow here, having made political outsiderdom fashionable enough to make political life hard for her successor, insider Gov. Henry McMaster.
The Next 50
Here’s an unranked, alphabetical list of 50 other people who are powerful in Columbia.
Kassy Alia — CEO and founder, Serve and Connect
Jeff Ayers — executive director and board chair, SC Equality
Luther Battiste — attorney, Johnson, Toal & Battiste
Chuck Beaman — CEO, Palmetto Health
Donald Beatty — chief justice, S.C. Supreme Court
Sue Berkowitz — director, South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center
Beth Bernstein —S.C. House
Michael Biediger — president and CEO, Lexington Medical Center
Carl Blackstone — president and CEO, Columbia Chamber
Cindi Boiter — executive director, The Jasper Project
Mike Brenan — president, BB&T
Caitlin Bright — executive director, Tapp’s Art Center
Tracie Broom & Debi Schadel — Flock + Rally, public relations firm
Richard Burts — owner, 701 Whaley
Bob Coble — attorney, Nexsen Pruet
Karen Coltrane — president and CEO, EdVenture
Rosie Craig — developer and historic preservationist, R. MacFarlane Craig Historic Preservation
Bill Ellen — president and CEO, Experience Columbia SC
Amy Beth Franks — executive director, Five Points Association
Byron Gipson — Democratic nominee, Fifth Circuit Solicitor
Robert Hughes — Hughes Development Corporation
Chip Jackson — Richland County Council
Bill Kirkland — director, University of South Carolina Office of Economic Engagement
Alison Kozberg — director, Nickelodeon Theatre
Marcus Lattimore — director of player development, University of South Carolina
L. Casey Manning — judge, 5th Judicial Circuit
Frank Martin — coach, University of South Carolina men’s basketball
Jay Matheson — owner, Jam Room Recording Studio
Sean McCrossin — owner, Drip,
Drip on Main and Scoopy Doo
Ed McDowell — Columbia City Council
Mia McLeod — S.C. Senate
Scott Middleton — CEO and founder, AgapeSenior
Stewart Mungo — chairman, Mungo Homes
Kristian Niemi — owner, Bourbon; partner, F2T Productions
Sabrina Odom — executive director, North Columbia Business Association
David Pankau — CEO, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina
Elise Partin — mayor, Cayce
Mark Plessinger — owner, Frame of Mind
Ben Rex — president, Cyberwoven
Bill Shanahan — president and owner, Lexington County Blowfish
Wim Roefs — co-founder and board chair, 701 Center for Contemporary Art
Joe Taylor — board member, South Carolina Transportation Infrastructure Bank
Jean Toal — former chief justice, South Carolina Supreme Court
Mike Tourville — owner, River Rat Brewery
JoAnn Turnquist — president and CEO, Central Carolina Community Foundation
Della Watkins — executive director, Columbia Museum of Art
Gary Watts — Richland County coroner
John Whitehead — executive director, Columbia Music Festival Association
Joe Wilson — U.S. House of Representatives
Craig Witherspoon — superintendent, Richland School District One
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