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City Watch: Rickenmann Roils the At-Large Race

Kevin Fisher in 2018

Kevin Fisher

“Daniel Rickenmann, the longtime Columbia City Councilman who currently represents District 4, has formally thrown his support behind attorney Sarah Middleton in the race for an at-large seat on Council.” – Free Times, Nov. 1

And with that, the Matthew McConaughey of Columbia City Council threw caution to the wind in openly seeking to defeat a fellow sitting member of that body.

As throwing caution to the wind is something that has had lifelong appeal to me, I applaud Rickenmann’s move if he truly feels Middleton’s youth (she’s 27) is better for the city than incumbent Howard Duvall’s experience (he’s 76). [Online copy corrected on Duvall's age.]

On the other hand, cynics would say Rickenmann is just doing the bidding of his own big backers, folks like developer and former SC Commerce Secretary Joe Taylor and well-known attorney Joe McCulloch, who support Middleton and have donated to her campaign.

To be clear, I like and respect both Taylor and McCulloch very much, have enjoyed talking politics with them for years (though the opportunity to do so has dropped dramatically since the closing of Devine Foods, a Columbia landmark for both great meals and great conversation), and think their support is a boost for Middleton.

As to why those behind-the-scenes city power brokers would want to knock off Duvall – the longtime director of the South Carolina Municipal Association who brought immense knowledge of and experience in government and finance to a city much in need of it-- you’ll have to ask them.

But clearly they do, and clearly Rickenmann wants to do the same. It’s an unusual move in Columbia politics, perhaps unprecedented (though I don’t know for sure if an incumbent council member has ever come out against another incumbent council member up for reelection).

At any rate, it’s all fine with me. Voters can interpret it and decide for themselves whether Rickenmann is a tool for change or just a tool.

That is the greatness of democracy, as is the choice between Duvall and Middleton, the choice between youth and experience, and the choice between Rickenmann and McConaughey for who you’d rather ride around with in a big Lincoln SUV!

On another matter in the at-large race, I wrote this in last week’s column about a direct mail card from Duvall:

“The mailer says that Duvall ‘kept his promise to end the practice of transferring water revenue into the city’s general fund.’ And indeed he did, as Duvall and fellow 2015 first term councilman Ed McDowell provided the votes to bring an end to the insanity of City Council diverting more than $100 million away from that dedicated fund, dating back two decades to the Coble-Cromartie era.”

While that was accurate and is much to both Duvall and McDowell’s credit in their reelection bids, I did not know when I wrote it that Duvall had said a few months ago that he would now be open to discussing going back to making such transfers away from the water fund. I must have been (way) out-of-town, as I certainly would have written about it had I known about it.

Indeed, as someone who has written repeatedly about the nonsense of transferring money away from the water fund even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency imposed a $750 million consent decree upon the city for its abysmal failure to maintain our water system, I would have slammed the idea.

While Duvall may be talking about resuming some amount of water fund transfer to support police operations etc., that discussion should not even be on the table until the full $750 million (which could turn out to be more) is spent on the required repairs and updates to the sewer system, as well as establishing a reserve fund for water system needs.

If you don’t have water, you have nothing. It’s true in nature, and it’s true in cities too.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.

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