At-large Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall will have competition in the November municipal election.
Dylan Gunnels, a 26-year-old refugee services coordinator at Lutheran Services Carolinas, tells Free Times he intends to seek the at-large seat. An Aiken native and Charleston Southern University alum, this will mark the first time Gunnels has sought public office.
Duvall confirms that he intends to seek re-election this year, saying he is “raising money and will be prepared for a race.”
Three seats on City Council are up for election this year: the at-large seat held by Duvall, the District 2 seat held by Ed McDowell and the District 3 seat held by Moe Baddourah. The District 3 race is already getting crowded, as educator John Loveday and design and construction firm owner Will Brennan have each announced their intent to challenge Baddourah.
Gunnels says he’s lived in Columbia since 2015, and has grown quite fond of the city, noting that it “has a lot to offer.” At the same time, he says, in conversations with friends and colleagues, he has often heard complaints about issues ranging from taxes to infrastructure to affordable housing and beyond. So he decided to get involved.
“I said, ‘You know what, I can sit around and complain about the issues at hand and I can talk about the things that are bothering me, or I can take this kind of scary leap and put myself out there and try to run for this position and bring forth the ideas that I have,” Gunnels says. “So that’s what I decided to do.”
Gunnels, who lives in the Seminary Ridge neighborhood, says he would bring a focus on infrastructure to Council, and would work, where applicable, toward improving streets, sidewalks, and the water and sewer system.
“What are we really doing to make those welcoming spaces where businesses are going to want to come in and going to want to thrive?” Gunnels says. “We know that, when those things happen, it brings more people downtown, it brings more opportunities for people to come and live downtown and work downtown and play downtown. It makes a more robust city.”
Unlike the smaller district races, at-large contests in Columbia are citywide. As a political newcomer in the Capital City, Gunnels says he’s aware such a race could be a daunting task, but he says he’s prepared to do the legwork.
“Honestly, and maybe this sounds tactical, but I plan to knock on every door,” he says. “I will say that on the record. My goal is to build relationships with every person that I can in the city and have conversations with as many people as I possibly can. Yeah, it’s intimidating. I’m not going to downplay it, it’s going to be a lot of work. But I think it is doable, and I think it is necessary.”
Gunnels, who is gay, says LGBT rights also are on his radar as he approaches the campaign, though he says those issues aren’t his singular focal point.
“It’s not something where I’m like, ‘This is my platform and LGBT rights are my only focus,’” Gunnels says. “It is an issue that I think needs to be addressed, absolutely. But, I’m never going to hide who I am.”
Gunnels insists his decision to run for the at-large seat on Council does not have anything directly to do with Duvall.
“I know it’s politics and I know we’ve got an election and I’ve got to run against him, but I’m really not running against the person,” the Council hopeful says. “I’m running for something. There wasn’t a moment where I said, ‘Howard’s not doing well and I can do it better.’ It was just a moment where I thought, ‘I’m passionate about this and I’ve got the ideas and the vision.’
“I am running for the city.”