Category Archives: Midlands

Former lawmaker McMaster charged with burglary

I’m seeing several news reports out there about Joe McMaster, brother of Henry, being arrested and charged with burglary.

Joe McMaster

Joe McMaster

Here’s The State‘s version.

I was struck by the fact that none of the reports so far have mentioned that Joe is not just the brother of a politician. Joe himself served in the Legislature a few years back. He briefly held a House seat — I want to say just one term — before being defeated for re-election by Joel Lourie in 1998.

He represented District 78, the same seat held today by Beth Bernstein.

I wasn’t positive at first that he was the McMaster brother who held the House seat until I saw the mug shot released by the county jail, and thought, yep, that’s Joe. A little worse for wear, mind you, but that’s Joe. (In his defense, I should probably say what the character Ives said when a German remarked negatively on a POW ID photo of him: “I’d like to see one of you under similar circumstances.”)

Anyway, I thought that detail was worth taking note of…

Sale of Palmetto Compress Warehouse to Close this Week

To quote John “Hannibal” Smith from “The A-Team”, I love it when a plan comes together.

Columbia businesswoman Rosie Craig is partnering with deep-pocketed Philadelphia developer Ron Caplan to purchase the historic Palmetto Compress Warehouse building from the city of Columbia.

The developers plan to convert the 320,000-square-foot structure into apartments, retail and possibly a hotel, sources close to the project said.

The purchase, expected to close this week, is for approximately $6 million.

“We, as a company, are very excited about the project,” said Dan Rothschild, of Caplan’s PMC Property Group.

You can count me as one of the people who were against the City of Columbia buying this building. As a fundamental rule, I don’t like the City government being in the real estate business. However, it looks like they didn’t mess this up. I’m looking forward to seeing this development take shape.

A second bank has been robbed on Two Notch Road

I didn’t really pay much attention to the fact that someone robbed a Wells Fargo on Two Notch Road yesterday. I did see the headline, and I remember thinking something like A bank robbery, huh? Don’t really see much of those anymore these days.

But now, there’s been another bank robbery, and again it’s on Two Notch, and again, the bank robber is at large.

What’s going on here?

Cameron Runyan gets another opponent

You might have already seen this, but on Friday, the Free Times reported that John Adams has officially thrown his hat into the ring for the Columbia City Council seat currently held by Cameron Runyan.

The field for November’s election for an at-large seat on Columbia City Council continues to swell.

On Wednesday, John Adams, son of former Columbia Mayor T. Patton Adams, told Free Times he intends to run for the at-large seat currently occupied by Cameron Runyan.

With Adams in the race, the current field of contenders now likely stands at four. Runyan says he plans to seek re-election. Longtime political consultant Tige Watts has announced he is running for the seat and local hip-hop artist Preach Jacobs has said he is strongly considering a run.

Having this many candidates at least means that the voters will get choices, so that’s a plus when it seems like so many elections in South Carolina are uncontested. I’m hoping that competition will produce good ideas.

Steve Benjamin’s new look

Since relatively few of y’all follow me on Twitter (which you should, because that’s kind of where I’m blogging when I’m not here), I thought I’d share this Tweet from last night:

This was taken as the mayor was leaving a reception honoring local attorney and former city councilman Luther Battiste, upon the addition of his papers to the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library at USC. Luther is a notorious packrat. Like me. But unlike me, he has managed to save some pretty interesting stuff from over the years.

And truth be told, this isn’t really a “new look.” He hasn’t turned a sartorial page, as it were. The mayor explained that he’d been home all day, and this was his first event outside of the house, so he just didn’t bother to get all gussied up.

His second event of the day was the Solomon-Tenenbaum lecture, which I also attended.

Robbery this morning at Sylvan’s

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I was deciding whether I should start following the Columbia PD’s Twitter feed, and checking to see if they were posting readily, and bang! Within the past hour, they’d been on the scene of a robbery at Sylvan’s.

So I decided to start following…

No details yet on the robbery. Except that no one was hurt, and they apparently got some good stuff off the surveillance cameras.

Tige Watts: Coming up through the neighborhoods

Tige Watts at the Five Points Starbucks, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015.

Tige Watts at the Five Points Starbucks, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015.

To begin with, Tige Watts isn’t just running against Cameron Runyan because of the incumbent’s solitary stance in November against providing same-sex couples with marriage-related benefits.

The 42-year-old Watts says that actually, his interest in running for council has been “bubbling up for awhile.”

As he sees it, he started on this path 13 years ago when he bought a home — in the neighborhood across Garner’s Ferry from the V.A. hospital — and started getting involved with his neighborhood.

And boy, did he get involved. He not even rose to leadership in his own neighborhood, but became president of the Columbia Council of Neighborhoods. When he entered that office, there were 81 neighborhood associations on the council. He resolved to grow it to 100, and reached the 104 mark before he left office.

He says his name was first mentioned for city council in 2010, but that was a bad time for him. He was about to become president of Neighborhoods USA, the national group of such associations. He is now serving his second term in that position, after a brief hiatus required by the organization’s rules.

Through his involvement in such groups, he says, he’s learned a lot about how local government should function, and how it can function.

“I see what people go through every day,” he said. The things that matter are basic — ensuring that “homes are safe, trash is picked up, water lines are running.” It’s “what really impacts people on a daily basis.”

He sees running for council as a “natural progression… City council is the next stop.”

He foresees his campaign focusing mainly on three things: Public safety, financial stewardship and the younger generation.

On public safety, he says it’s “easy to pick on” flashpoints such as Five Points, but he sees the challenge more holistically. He likes what Chief Holbrook has been doing in his brief time in office, and sees him as a welcome addition after the turmoil in police leadership the last few years.

Mr. Watts is a believer in the “broken windows” school of community policing, and believes that ultimately, “Prosperity is the best deterrent.”

On financial stewardship, “I worry about some of the commitments we’ve taken on.” He was very much against the city exposing itself so far on the Bull Street development, but now that Columbia is committed, “We’ve got to make that a success.”

He worries that Columbia relies far too much on government for jobs.

As for youth, he is concerned that too many are at risk, and we may be “losing a generation” to crime, gangs, and a lack of good job opportunities. As with so many things, he says this is something he has seen up close “in our neighborhoods.”

In our conversation at the Five Points Starbucks Friday, he sounded communitarian themes so often that I began to wonder who might have coached him for this interview. (Not that he couldn’t have coached himself — he is, after all, a political consultant, one who does “everything but raise money.”) He talked about the need to get people back out on their front porches, and get to know their neighbors. “Neighbors watch out for each other.”

Mr. Watts showed little interest in talking about Mr. Runyan’s vote on the benefits issue. When I noted that some people believed that was why he was running, he responded, “The only thing I’ll say is… If he can discriminate against one type of person, he can discriminate against others.”

And he changed the subject. The biggest thing he seems to take issue with the incumbent over is Bull Street. “I don’t thing that was a good risk” for the city. But again he stressed, “Now that it’s done… we’ve got to make sure it is a success.” He says he’s “dying to see the letters of intent” from prospective business tenants that the developer is said to have.

He plans to launch his campaign two weeks from today, on Feb. 16.

Where Cameron Runyan is coming from

File photo of Cameron Runyan in 2011.

File photo of Cameron Runyan in 2011.

Earlier this month, Cameron Runyan happened to run across my blog post from November, when I shared with y’all his written explanation of his lone vote against same-sex benefits.

He wanted to get together and “catch up,” so I met him for breakfast on Jan. 23.

At that time, he shared with me some of the story about how he came to be a lone culture warrior on Columbia City Council, among other things. I wasn’t sure at the time that I was going to write anything about the conversation, and took few notes (so Cameron, if I remember anything wrong, please let me know and I’ll correct it). Then I decided that I would write about it, but only after talking with his likely opponent in this year’s election, Tige Watts. I spoke with Mr. Watts Friday, making a point of taking more notes this time.

But first, the incumbent, starting with his conversion experience…

Cameron Runyan’s grandparents were missionaries, but he didn’t really get deeply into religion until just over three years ago.

He and his extended family were spending the Christmas holidays in the Caribbean. On Boxing Day 2011, he and a couple of other family members went out for a run (if you recall from something I wrote earlier that year, he had “disgustingly healthy habits”).

Suddenly, he could not go on. His muscles were seizing up, and he could hardly breathe. Apparently, it was a matter of dehydration or something of that sort — in any case, his electrolytes (which plants crave) were all out of whack. “The point of dehydration where I was is 50-60% fatal,” he added in a text to me today. “You more often die than live at that point. It was extremely dire and painful.” He thought this was it; he was dying. And as he lay more or less helpless on a bed in a medical facility later, trying to recover, he concluded that he was not happy with how he had lived his life thus far. He felt himself to be lacking the proper connection to something greater than himself.

Over the coming months, he plunged into a new sort of relationship with God, one with an evangelical flavor. For a time, his wife had a hard time dealing with the new Cameron. Then one day, he came home and she had undergone a conversion of her own. From then on, the Runyans were on the same journey, bringing their kids along with them.

For a good while, they attended services presided over by Det Bowers. Det was from Hampton County, where Cameron had grown up. And his life had followed in some ways a similar trajectory. Bowers was an attorney who managed Michael Dukakis’ campaign in South Carolina in 1988, and went on to become a preacher who would run to the right of Lindsey Graham in last year’s GOP primary.

But when Mr. Bowers gave up preaching, the Runyans ended up at Columbia’s First Presbyterian Church, well known as one of the most conservative large, brand-name congregations in the city. I showed my ignorance by saying that while I knew First Pres was pretty conservative, it wasn’t as conservative as A.R.P. Cameron said it is A.R.P. (which I think maybe I once knew, but had forgotten), and in fact the biggest Associate Reform Presbyterian church around.

A word or two about the A.R.P. denomination… While the only time I can recall entering an A.R.P. church was for Lee Bandy’s funeral, it looms large in my family tree. Look up the church’s history, and you see among the founders such names as Moffatt and Pressly, which are kin to my father’s mother. Erskine College is A.R.P., as was Erskine Caldwell, in spite of the sexually titillating books for which he became famous. In the years before my grandfather died in 1957, he and my grandmother had been living in a house on the edge of Due West owned by the president of Erskine. Billy Graham was brought up in an A.R.P. church, although he was later ordained as a Southern Baptist.

Among other things, Wikipedia notes that the denomination officially calls homosexuals “to repentance, cleansing, and deliverance in the saving power of Jesus Christ.”

So it is not surprising that when Cameron Runyan gets onto the subject of same-sex marriage, there is a good bit of talk about God’s will along with his objections to moral relativism, postmodernism and so forth.

I think I’ve fairly brought you up to date on that. Some other items from our conversation:

  • When he voted as he did on the benefits issue, I recall that a number of people expressed disappointment in him as a Democrat. Well, he doesn’t consider himself to be a Democrat any longer. (Remember, city council elections are nonpartisan.) As evidence of that, he pointed to his support of Mr. Bowers in last year’s Senate primary.
  • He didn’t want to talk about his relationship with Steve Benjamin who endorsed his candidacy last time around, and with whom he has been so closely allied for quite some time thereafter. But there are indications that that relationship is at best strained, compared to what it was.
  • While he is running for re-election in November, he says he won’t run again for this seat, after this time. I did not gather from that that he was retiring from politics; he just doesn’t want to hold this seat past one more term.
  • When I mentioned that it looked as though he had opposition, he said that yes, he’d heard that Joe Azar might run against him. He did not mention Tige Watts, whose yet-to-be-official candidacy has actually been the subject of some talk in the community.

Speaking of Mr. Watts, I’d best turn to my post about him…

 

Update on the Richland Penny, tonight

I’ve had this on my calendar, and had thought about going, but I don’t think I’m going to make it.

But if you’d like to know what’s happening with the projects and programs that the one-cent sales tax hike in Richland County is supposed to pay for, you might want to attend:

penny

Today is not as great a day in SC as yesterday was: Bose shutting Blythewood plant

Nikki Haley’s is lucky this didn’t break a day earlier. It would have taken some of the shine off her State of the State address…

Columbia’s new poet laureate, Ed Madden

Hey, did you know that Columbia had a poet laureate? Neither did I. It’s a new thing.

In fact, it didn’t become official until after the governor’s people had ditched the state’s poet from the inauguration ceremony — although the city had apparently made the decision to create the office earlier.

There’s a release about it here.

Madden,Ed 2008

Ed Madden — 2008

Anyway, the city’s first-ever official poet is USC English prof Ed Madden. This caused me to quote Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf: “I know him!” Which is not something I can usually say about distinguished poets.

Ed was one of the first batch of eight Community Columnists we appointed back when I was first editorial page editor at The State, winning out over hundreds of competing entries in our contest. He and the others would write one column each a month for our op-ed page, for which we’d pay them a modest fee. Back in the days when there was money for such things.

So I knew he could write. I just didn’t know he did it in verse.

And you know what? The poem he read before the mayor’s State of the City speech last night is pretty good. Not to pick on Marjory Wentworth, but I think his piece was better than the one that she didn’t get to read at the Haley shindig. Having majored in history and journalism, I don’t have the words for explaining why that is, except to say that it strikes me as way literary and stuff.

Here it is:

A Story of the City

(for the 2015 State of the City Address by Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin, 20 Jan 2015)

 

In the story, there is a city, its streets

straight as a grid, and in the east, the hills,

in the west, a river. In the story,

someone prays to a god, though we don’t

know yet if it is a prayer of praise

or a prayer for healing — so much depends

on this — his back to us, or hers, shoulders

bent. We hear the murmur of it, the urgency.

In the story a man is packing up

a box of things at a desk, a woman is sitting

in a car outside the grocery as if

she can’t bring herself to go in, not yet.

Or is the man unpacking, setting a photo

of his family on the desk, claiming it?

And is the woman writing a message to someone—

her sister maybe, a friend? In the story,

a child is reading, sunlight coming through

the window. In the story, the trees are thicker,

and green. In the story, a child is reading,

yes, and his father watches, uncertain

about something. There is a mother, maybe

an aunt, an uncle, another father. These things

change each time we open the book, start

reading the story over. Sometimes a story

about trees, sometimes about a city

of light, the city beyond the windows of a dark

pub, now lucent and glimmering. Or sometimes

a story about a ghost, his clothes threaded

with fatigue and smoke, with burning—you smell him

as he enters the room, and you wonder

about that distant city he fled, soot-shod,

looking back in falling ash at the past.

Sometimes it’s a story about someone

singing. Or someone signing a form, or speaking

before a crowd, or shouting outside a building

that looks important, if only for the flag there,

or the columns, or the well-kept lawn.

By now it’s maybe your story, and the child

is your child, or you, or maybe we’re telling

the story together, as people do, sitting

at a table in a warm room, the meal

finished, the night dark, a candle lit,

an empty cup left out for a prophet,

an empty chair, maybe, for a dead friend,

a room filled with words, filled with voices,

the living and the dead, someone telling

a story about the people we are meant to be.

 Ed Madden, Poet Laureate, City of Columbia

Above is video of him reading it. Click on this link to go straight to the poem.

Your Walk for Life dollars at work

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Palmetto Health Foundation calls our attention to this WIS story:

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – Palmetto Health Richland has a new weapon in the fight against breast cancer and it’s the first in the state to have such a device.

The tool, an Automated Whole Breast Ultrasound, can help detect more cancers that are sometimes missed when patients get mammograms.

The device was made possible due to the Midlands community who annually raises awareness of the disease…. The $200,000 cost of the ultrasound machine was paid for with funds from the Palmetto Health Foundation and Walk for Life/Race for Life….

So thanks again to all of y’all who contributed to the blog Walk for Life team!

 

Runyan stance may generate an actual challenge this year

Remember Cameron Runyan’s solitary stance on a vote dealing with an aspect of the same-sex marriage issue?

There was a flurry of rhetoric at the time to the effect of “somebody oughta run against this guy.” There was a Twitter feed and everything — although the last Tweet was Dec. 10.

Well, “somebody” may. Free Times is reporting this:

On Nov. 18, Columbia City Council voted — by a count of 4-1 — to extend benefits to the spouses of city employees who are in legal same-sex marriages, including legal marriages from any of the 50 states. Councilman Cameron Runyan cast the lone dissenting vote.

Avatar from the "Replace Runyan" Twitter feed.

Avatar from the “Replace Runyan” Twitter feed.

A day later, on Nov. 19, longtime Columbia political consultant Tige Watts posted the following on his Facebook page: “As God is my witness, I will do everything I can to make sure Cameron Runyan is not re-elected to Columbia City Council 349 days from now.”

It’s looking like Watts wasn’t kidding.

On Monday afternoon, Watts told Free Times that he is heavily considering a run for the at-large seat on Columbia City Council currently occupied by Runyan. Watts says he is in the process of preparing campaign materials and would likely make an official announcement at the end of the month.

Runyan’s at-large post is one of three seats that will be up for election in November…

 

Ground broken on Bull Street ballpark

This just in from those promoting the Bull Street development:

“Today we break ground; In April of 2016, we’ll play ball!”

This morning, Columbia came together to ceremoniously break ground on Spirit Communications Park.  The park will be a state-of-the-art multi-use sports and entertainment venue home to an affiliated Minor League Baseball team in April, 2016.
 

“This is a milestone day for our entire city,” Mayor Benjamin said. “It’s taken hard work by many to make this possible, and more hard work is still in store, but our vision for a more vibrant Columbia is coming closer and closer to fruition. The countdown is now on to Opening Day in 2016.”
 
“It’s exciting to think about how Spirit Communications Park will add to what is already one of America’s great cities,” said Freier, who was at a similar groundbreaking for Parkview Field in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 2007. Parkview Field has since been named the “No. 1 Ballpark Experience” in Minor League Baseball in three of the past four years. 
 
Spirit Communications Park will anchor development at Columbia Common, the new gateway to Downtown Columbia. The 181-acre Columbia Common, under the guidance of master developer Hughes Development, is primed to become the ultimate live-work-play community in the region. 
 

“We’ve seen this kind of development centered around a ballpark work throughout the country, including not so far away from Columbia,” said Bob Hughes, who led a similar project a decade ago around Fluor Field in Greenville. “Folks in Columbia are in for a treat with Spirit Communications Park.” 
 
We can expect more than 900 jobs to be created during the construction of the ballpark. Once complete, Columbia’s professional baseball team will bring on approximately 35 full-time and 550 part-time employees.
 
This park would not be possible with out support from people like you; people who gave their time and energy to support Building Bull Street. Let’s play ball!

We very much enjoyed Phillip’s performance Wednesday night

Phillip

The wife and I had a treat Wednesday evening. At the last minute, one of our daughters obtained tickets for chamber music at the Columbia Museum of Art.

And one of the featured performers was our own Phillip Bush!

It was the first time I’ve actually heard Phillip in concert, and it was awesome. (I’m not counting this impromptu performance in Kathryn’s salon.) Although he would have been even more entertaining had he given us some of the extremely intense facial expressions offered by the lovely visiting violinist. That was worth paying extra for.

But seriously, folks, Phillip is an amazing talent.

My favorite part of the program was the Haydn piece. The Brahms was wonderful as well, but I’m more of a classical-period guy, I guess.

I apologize for the low quality of the photo below. I shot it as the musicians were taking their positions as the intermission ended. I wanted a shot of Phillip and also of the violinist, so we could tell the Twins that if they really practice hard on their cellos, they, too, will be able to wear such a shiny dress.

That’s Phillip behind the grand. The guy whose head you can see, not the guy in the khaki pants — that’s his page turner. Talk about having a great seat! I was pretty envious of that guy…

chamber

 

Columbia’s ‘Justice for All’ initiative

Passing on this release, about the city of Columbia’s response to Ferguson and Staten Island:

Mayor Benjamin announces new “Justice for All” initiative

Columbia, SC. – Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin was joined by Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, Members of Council and leaders from across the community to announce his major new “Justice for All” public safety initiative.

“We are committed to building a world class Police Department and in order to do this we must commit to strengthening the foundation of trust and accountability that exists between our communities and our law enforcement agencies,” said Mayor Benjamin. “This is about more than public safety. This is about justice.”

Comprehensive in its approach, the Justice for All initiative focuses on Training, Diversity, Accountability and community Engagementthrough a series of new and expanded policies which include:

  • Providing new and ongoing cultural sensitivity, conflict resolution and de-escalation training.
  • Appointing minority community representation on CPD’s police hiring board.
  • Establishing a citywide Human Rights Commission.
  • Appointing civilian representation to CPD’s Internal Affairs Review Board.
  • Publicly publishing an Annual Internal Affairs Report.
  • Recording all violent crime suspect interviews.
  • Organizing ongoing listening sessions in communities across Columbia.
  • Providing body cameras to all uniformed personnel.

(Justice for All initiative outline attached)

For more information, contact Michael Wukela at 803-413-5052.

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Here’s the news story in The State today.

Thoughts?

 

400 families waiting for help to have a Merry Christmas

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One of our friends over at the S.C. Center for Fathers and Families forwarded this message from the Palmetto Project over to me, so I’ll share it with you:

If you’ve been thinking about adopting a family this Christmas, we have more than 400 families left, a lot of these are families of 2 or 3 – and we really need your help.

Please call the WIS TV phone bank at 251-8501 and speak to a volunteer today so that we can make sure you get your information ASAP!  Or you can go to http://www.wistv.com/story/24003113/2014-families-helping-families to register on line.

Phone Bank is open now until 7:30 and tomorrow from 5 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

If you have already adopted a family, thank you very much!  You should have received your information already, so please call us at 251-8501 if you have not.

Thank you so much for your continued generosity.