WATCH: Columbia’s Mayor Sees Opportunity After Disaster

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin delivered his 2016 State of the City address Tuesday night

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) – Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin delivered his 2016 State of the City address Tuesday night.

The mayor, inspired by his daughter’s love for math, started by breaking all his successes, in five-and-a-half years in office, down by numbers.

Benjamin says in that time, he’s cut the city’s unemployment rate from 9.5 percent to 4.9 percent. Benjamin says he’s overseen the investment of more than $1.3 billion dollars in downtown Columbia since 2014. He says the city has spent millions improving the city’s water and sewer systems. He also mentioned Columbia’s commitment to 21st century policing, that was recently recognized in Washington, D.C.

On October 4, 2015, the mayor was tested in a way he’s never experienced, comparing the One Thousand Year Flood to William T. Sherman’s burning of Columbia.

“A disaster like that can bring out the worst in people, ” Benjamin says. “We’ve seen it before.”

That’s not what the mayor saw in the days, weeks and months following the flood, as strangers came together to help one another.

“I saw a world class city become a city of heroes,” he says.

Mayor Benjamin sees the aftermath of the disaster as an opportunity. He wants council to join him, in making sure we rebuild Columbia better than it was before. As we rebuild roads, he says, the goal is to make them more walker and biker-friendly.

“The infrastructure in our city, for me, continues to be a priority,” Columbia city councilman Ed McDowell says, “and Mayor Benjamin did a good job today at least laying out that groundwork.”

The mayor is launching a Small Business Disaster Relief Fund to help those small businesses that are still wading out of the flood waters.

“I certainly want to support him,” Columbia city councilman Howard Duvall says. “He’s got a lot of good ideas, and we will talk about them on the city council and the council will do everything we can to make his vision come true.”

Benjamin wants to match the commitment they’ve made to Main Street, to major corridors like Two Notch Road, Farrow Road and Beltline Boulevard.

And Benjamin is full of ideas, including an eco-tourism expedition in the works. The trip would involve a flotilla of small boats riding from our riverbanks here in Columbia to Charleston. The goal of the journey would be to promote historical and environmental responsibility.

“Tomorrow is a world of wonder waiting for us,” Benjamin says, “but it isn’t promised to anyone. That’s why I’m committed today.”

The mayor also introduced a new citywide literacy initiative called, “Mayor Benjamin’s Barbershop Books.” A large donation will put 10,000 books into 100 barbershops in the area in the next two years. The program is meant to encourage reading, especially among young boys.

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