Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said he'll champion diversity as head of national mayors group

Mayor Steve Benjamin, one of South Carolina’s star local politicians, took office Monday as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

May 7, 2018

Citing Columbia for its diversity efforts, Mayor Steve Benjamin said he'll work to raise $1 million to promote inclusive local policies across the country during his inauguration Monday as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"I believe it is the reason that Columbia is here at this opportunity right now," Benjamin said during his half-hour remarks at a ceremony in Columbia. "We will always work to build consensus, but never compromise on the issues that define each and every one of us as equals."

Benjamin said he'll spearhead a fundraising push, partnering with businesses, to raise at least $1 million to fund the initiative. He offered few details in a brief interview, but said more information will be later announced. 

He said the initiative is a follow-up to the compact to combat bigotry signed in August 2017 by more than 200 members of the national mayors group in the wake of the racially tinged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Benjamin, a black Democrat in his third term as Columbia's mayor, said he's concerned with the country's wave of hateful demonstrations.

"We're becoming a nation where increasingly intolerant speech is considered to be par for the course," he said. 

He declined to directly tie his concerns to statements and policies from the Trump administration, but said, "It's important that every leader in this country, from our president, to our members of Congress, governors, mayors, begins to emit and emote messages that bring us together. And whenever any leader speaks counter to those purposes, it's the role of the mayors to speak against that."

Benjamin, 48, becomes the second South Carolina mayor to take the helm of the national mayors group, joining former longtime Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, who introduced Benjamin during Monday's ceremony.

The group organizes an annual meeting for U.S. mayors of cities with populations larger than 30,000, where they vote to adopt official positions on issues facing cities across the country and share those policies with U.S. leaders.

Benjamin in an interview with The Post and Courier last week said his push for inclusion will join his priorities to fix the country's crumbling infrastructure and create innovative policies to address 21st-century technology.