The key, he said, is “keeping our base engaged,” and turning out people who maybe didn’t get out on Tuesday.
I asked him how he defined that base, and he said it included LGBT voters, the arts community, those 50 and under and young professionals. At this point, I told him, I was feeling a bit left out. Just kidding. (In fact, I should disclose that Andy and his wife, Kimi Maeda, are friends with my elder son and daughter-in-law.)
Since he mentioned LGBT folks first, I wondered — would his base be less motivated now that Cameron Runyan was out of it? He said he didn’t think so.
In fact, he emphasized that his campaign was far less about what this or that person had done in the past, and more about what Columbians together could do in the future.
“We’re the only campaign talking about ideas for the future,” he said. “We’re not negatively motivated; we’re actually the reverse.”
What does he mean by that? He cites the prediction by the Urban Land Institute — he was involved in ULI’s Reality Check two years ago — that the Midlands would grow by 500,000 people over the next three decades. He’s among those convinced that the way for that bigger city to be the kind we want to live in, it needs to attract both talented workers and successful entrepreneurs.
Although he didn’t put it this way, to some extent he meant people like himself.
Andy Smith grew up in Columbia, the son of a retired two-star Army general and the grandson of a brigadier. He went away to Swarthmore for his undergraduate degree, and did graduate work at UCLA. He came back home after an epiphany following the 2004 presidential election.
At the time, he was one of many “young, progressive people from the South” who “had all moved to the blue states.” After the election, he was looking at a map showing which states had gone for Bush and which for Kerry, and was struck by how divided the country was.
He decided he would no longer surround himself only with people who saw the world the way he did. He came home. “Places like Columbia are very special,” he said. Someone like him is “forced to interact with people who disagree with you all the time.” And he sees that as a good thing. “I moved back here determined that I’m just going to change the world.
Five years ago he became executive director of Nickelodeon Theater. The bio on his campaign website describes his tenure thusly:
Under his leadership, the Nickelodeon moved to the renovated Fox Theater in the heart of Columbia’s burgeoning Main Street, doubling its annual attendance and growing its budget to over $1 Million annually. Andy is also the founder and co-director of the Indie Grits Festival, named twice by MovieMaker Magazine as one of the “20 Coolest Film Festivals in the World.” Columbia Business Monthly named Andy to its 2014 “50 Most Influential People” list and Free Times named him one of “50 People who Get Things Done” in 2015.
He sees his candidacy as a logical next step in helping build and maintain a livable community.
Some other things we talked about during our interview today at the Vista Starbucks:
- What about his relationship with the mayor, since this runoff is being described as the Benjamin team (Smith and Bishop) versus the mayor’s detractors (Duvall and McDowell)? He sort of laughed as he said “The mayor is one of many people who have offered advice.” He has found that when you’re running for public office, a lot of people come out of the woodwork to offer such advice and aid, both “solicited and unsolicited.”
- One of the key issues that has divided the mayor and Howard Duvall was the strong mayor initiative, which Duvall was instrumental in scuttling. He said that while be believes a community needs “strong leaders,” he doesn’t have strong opinions regarding what the best form of government might be. He did vote for the proposal, but he sees the form as less important than the quality of individual leaders.
- Smith is half the age of Duvall, who is also a retired professional at running municipalities. Smith is unfazed by his opponent’s resume. Sure, Duvall is an expert on the nuts and bolts of running a town, but “We have a philosophical difference about the proper role of a council person.” Smith doesn’t think an elected councilman should be “getting involved in the nitty-gritty that you want staff to do.” A member of council should “think big,” concerning himself with policy rather than the minutiae of administration. “Retain talented people; let them do their jobs.” For his part, speaking of the Nickelodeon’s key role in transforming Main Street, “I have 10 years of experience actually turning our city around, and that’s the kind of experience we actually need on council.”
- He noted that he was “talking about water and sewer before the flood,” based on personal experience. He and his wife live in the Earlwood neighborhood, and their tap water was brown, forcing them to drink bottled water from the grocery.
- Like his opponent, he sees crime as a big issue, especially since he and his wife have been “awakened by gunshots” in their neighborhood. “Not feeling safe in your home is just terrible.” He believes it is essential to hire and retain the best people as first-responders.
- He says the city has not done enough to take care of the good “things that make us unique — such as “our rivers, which we continue to dump sewage into.”
- He sees the need for a citywide comprehensive cultural plan, which would help Columbia obtain grant money that would further develop the arts, making the city that much more attractive to the “creative class” that Richard Florida speaks of.
“I think we have all the pieces we need to be successful. So much has happened almost despite city council in the past.” He believes he can help provide the right leadership to keep the community moving forward.