Moe Baddourah is hoping to nab a third term on Columbia City Council in District 3.
To say that his second term was rocky would be an understatement.
Baddourah’s trouble started on an evening in July 2016, in the parking lot of Rockaway Athletic Club, a restaurant and bar in the Rosewood neighborhood. The councilman was arrested and charged with criminal domestic violence after allegedly hitting his then-wife with a car door during a heated exchange. In March 2017, Gov. Henry McMaster, noting Baddourah had been accused of a “crime of moral turpitude,” suspended him from City Council.
He remained suspended for more than a year while his case was pending. He eventually entered pre-trial intervention in September 2018, and was reinstated by the governor a month later. By the time he had returned, Baddourah — known as one of the more conservative members of Council and typically one of the loudest antagonists of powerful Mayor Steve Benjamin’s political machine — had spent 18 months on the sidelines, a time in which District 3 was without direct representation on Council.
As the Nov. 5 city election looms, Baddourah’s opponents — construction and design firm owner Will Brennan and charter school principal John Loveday — have seized opportunities to point out what they feel was lost when the councilman was suspended for all that time.
“The people of District 3 are ready for new leadership,” Loveday tells Free Times. “The people of District 3 have lost trust in our current leadership. That’s the main reason I’m running, because of that lack of trust.”
Brennan says the fact that District 3 went 18 months without direct Council representation was significant.
“At the end of the day, the time he missed was some pretty important time in the redevelopment of District 3 after the flood [of October 2015],” Brennan says. “But it’s not about Councilman Baddourah not being there. It’s about, on election day when we win, the new representation — the proper representation — that District 3 will have.”
In a recent interview, Free Times asked Baddourah directly if he thought the people of District 3 still had faith in him after his suspension-addled current term.
“I don’t think I lost trust,” Baddourah says. “You’re always going to have sections of people who are not going to support you, no matter what happened. That’s just a matter of politics. You aren’t going to have 100 percent support every time you run. That being said, not one person ever asked me to resign while I was suspended. Not one person stepped up and said, ‘You need to leave, we don’t have trust in you.’ That never happened. … I did everything I could to get back on Council. I stayed involved with the community [during the suspension]. I went to neighborhood meetings. I stayed in touch with supporters.”
Baddourah noted he even “sued the damn governor,” a reference to the July 2017 lawsuit he filed against McMaster in an effort to be reinstated to Council.
Looking ahead, Baddourah says he is focused on business fee reform in Columbia. Specifically, in a government-and-nonprofit heavy city where 65 percent of the property is tax exempt, Baddourah has proposed encouraging certain large, tax-exempt entities — like the University of South Carolina — to pay a fee for the city services, like police and fire, that they receive.
“We want the university and the hospitals and the big nonprofits to come in to the table and say, ‘Look, we understand your concerns. We want to be part of this community. We want to help provide services for our hospitals and our universities and our students and patients,’” Baddourah says.
Meanwhile, Loveday notes that addressing public safety has been one of the key planks in his platform. It’s a topic that has been on the minds of many, as Columbia has just come through a summer filled with significant gunfire. In September, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook noted the city has seen a “precipitous increase” gun-related murders. In 2017, 64 percent of murders in Columbia were committed with a gun. In 2018, that jumped to 75 percent, and this year it has surged up to 80 percent.
Loveday acknowledges public safety is a “complex” and “systemic” issue that will not be fixed overnight. He says the city has an obligation to provide services and safety, and that it currently doesn’t do either particularly well.
“Last year, I attempted to get a new rollaway trash can,” Loveday says. “It took me about three months of calling and emailing and going up to the central city office to complain that I needed a new trash can, because mine was broken and needed to be replaced. If we can’t address something as simple as a citizen needing a new trash can, then there’s no wonder we are not getting the larger, more systemic, complex issues right. We have to really take our services seriously.”
Brennan ran for Richland County Council in District 5, which heavily overlaps with the city’s District 3, in 2018, ultimately falling to Allison Terracio in a Democratic primary.
He says, if elected, he also would focus on public safety, as well as water and sewer infrastructure and customer service.
“You have to get infrastructure right,” Brennan says. “It seems like right now if water comes out of it, goes into it, flows over it or around it, this city has had a problem with it. And it’s not just now. This problem has been going on since before I was born. Look at services. People pull their hair out when they think about having to interact with the city, with the water department or the business license department. … We have to make the interactions with our city simple, easier, and maybe even enjoyable.”
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