COLUMBIA — Sam Davis glanced down at stack of notes marked by yellow highlighter and an accompanying speech that he hadn’t needed to reference.
The longtime Columbia City Councilman announced Wednesday he won’t seek re-election in November. He pulled dollar figures and accomplishments from memory as he spoke at City Hall about the millions of dollars invested in his North Columbia district during his 23 years on the council.
His departure opens his District 1 seat for a new face to represent city’s northern communities like Earlewood, Elmwood Park and Eau Claire.
“It’s time. It’s time for new blood; it’s time for someone else to come in and add to the mission of this city,” said Davis, who is 72 and retired from the S.C. Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.
The announcement is the first of what could be an active election season that reshapes Columbia’s policy-making body. Mayor Steve Benjamin has not declared his plans in the final year of his third term.
If Benjamin doesn’t seek re-election, that opens the race to supporters and others who previously declined to run against the popular incumbent. Among those possible mayoral candidates is at-large Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine.
Devine is in the final year of her council term and if she runs for mayor, her council seat would be wide open in November. Daniel Rickenmann’s term representing his southeast Columbia district is also up this year. He has not yet revealed his plans.
Sam Johnson, Benjamin’s former chief of staff, said this month he is considering a campaign for mayor if Benjamin doesn’t run.
Davis was first elected to City Council in 1998 to the seat previously held by Luther Battiste, who had served 15 years as one of the city’s first Black council members since Reconstruction.
Davis’s term has been marked in part by redevelopment of North Main Street, with road improvements and new businesses reviving the area. Historic buildings have been repurposed as apartments and coffee shops and more areas are primed to welcome new development.
Battiste and Davis have been the district’s only representatives since the city went to four single-member districts in 1983 after a legal challenge from the NAACP and community leaders. The men met on a street corner while Battiste was campaigning for his first election and Davis working for another candidate, Davis recalled Wednesday.
Battiste described driving along the revitalized North Main between Elmowood Avenue and Columbia College and noting the improved look he said will drive more economic development in the area.
“And Sam was at the forefront,” Battiste told The Post and Courier. “Sam is not a boisterous leader, but a quiet, effective leader for North Columbia. I couldn’t be prouder of the job he’s done over the almost quarter century he’s represented that area.”
Davis also touts his work helping spearhead a project to build 25 homes for low and moderate-income families in the Belmont community. He noted the investments in city parks, including a new gym and pool in Pineview and work underway at Hyatt Park.
In the final months of his term, Davis said he wants to eliminate food deserts in his district by working to recruit small grocers and programs that would provide fresh food to residents without neighborhood options.
Davis spoke Wednesday about the period when he joined council being one where investment was happening in other areas of the city, such as the redevelopment underway in the Vista. He said he worked to build relationships with his neighborhood associations and forged partnerships that helped create beautified corridors and breed new business in the area.
Among the projects he noted were a $50 million streetscape project, $5 million to improve water quality in Earlewood and $2 million to improve building facades on North Main.