Sara Middleton 3

Sara Middleton

Filing for November's City of Columbia municipal election has opened, and incumbent at-large City Councilman Howard Duvall has drawn a challenger.

Sara Middleton, who is general counsel for LTC Health Solutions and whose family has invested heavily in the 1600 block of Main Street, has filed to seek the at-large seat. Middleton filed on Tuesday morning.

There are three seats up for grabs in the Nov. 5 election: the at-large seat currently held by Duvall, the District 2 seat currently held by Ed McDowell and the District 3 post held by Moe Baddourah.

Baddourah, Duvall and McDowell have all filed to seek re-election. Filing will remain open until Sept. 6.

Construction and design firm owner Will Brennan has filed to seek the District 3 seat, and educator John Loveday has filed to run for the seat, as well. In fact, Baddourah, Loveday and Brennan have already participated in at least one candidate forum

Aside from Middleton, a 27-year-old attorney and businesswoman, there is another candidate who also has announced a challenge for the at-large — i.e. citywide — post. Dylan Gunnels, a refugee services coordinator with Lutheran Services Carolinas, has long said he'll seek the seat. He formally filed to run on Aug. 23.

When reached by Free Times, Middleton says she thinks Columbia is at a pivotal moment. She says she wants to help push the city forward.

"I really, truly feel that, with Columbia, we face so many new challenges right now that we're almost at a tipping point," she says. "We're either going to take advantage of Columbia's opportunities and create this business-friendly environment, bringing new businesses here, creating a world class 21st century city, or we're going to kind of sit back and grow somewhat steadily and kind of squander the opportunity that I feel is right in front of our faces.

"At the end of the day, I looked in the mirror and said, 'You know what? I have a unique ability to bring a fresh perspective to the table.'"

The Middleton family — including Sara's father Scott and brother Greg — has been a driving force in the revitalization of the 1600 block of Main Street in Columbia. The family has developed a number of businesses there, including The Grand boutique bowling alley/lounge, Michael's Cafe and Catering, the Venue on Main and others.

Sara Middleton is also making public safety a part of her platform. Crime has been at the top of many residents' minds recently after a spate of shootings and gun incidents in the city. A violent crime prevention initiative also has been launched in North Columbia. 

Middleton, who is seeking public office for the first time, says public safety has an impact on potential future business growth. She notes that the city needs to market itself as being friendly to new businesses and industries, and as being a safe place for residents and new developments.

"In order to do that, you have to feel as though, 'My employees want to move to this city. My employees of this company want to be in Columbia,'" she says. "They will want to have a high quality of life and feel a sense of safety in their communities and their neighborhoods and their streets. ... I do kind of look the stats in the face that say Columbia does have a rather high crime rate compared to the rest of the nation.

"How do we work together, not only as a police department, but as a community, as a USC community, as a city and as business leaders, to ensure that what we are marketing to outside organizations to want to bring them here is something they want and that their employees are going to have a high quality of life if they move here? Let's grow Columbia. Of course, you have to have a safe community in order for that growth to really happen."

Middleton says she thinks Duvall is a "wonderful person," but says she thinks they have "different priorities." She insists her priorities will focus on city and business growth.

"I know [Duvall] fought really hard for the e-cigarettes ban [in bars and restaurants]," Middleton says. "I just think there are a lot more important things we can be focusing on. It's not necessarily, 'Oh there's something [Duvall] has done wrong.' I just think my experience and my knowledge make me uniquely equipped to bring these new generational ideas and new positive growth and a big change to our city."

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