Thu. Mar 30th, 2023


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Scoop: Ex-South Carolina mayor gets White House post as Bottoms departs

3 min read

Mayor Steve Benjamin, left, greets voters outside Woodland Park Tuesday in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo: Gerry Melendez/The State/Tribune News Service via Getty Images.

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is departing as head of a White House office that works with state, local and national officials on key issues — a position that will go to Steven Benjamin, a former mayor of Columbia, S.C.

Why it matters: As new director of the White House Office of Public Engagement beginning in April, Benjamin will be a liaison to officials across the nation as well as the business community. He'll be one of the most prominent African Americans to shape Biden's work and messaging in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.

  • The role involves ensuring that diverse views are represented in the administration's efforts to implement nearly $2 trillion in spending and tax incentives approved during the past two years.
  • "Steve’s deep relationships with communities across the country will serve our administration and the American public well," Biden said in a statement, noting Benjamin's previous roles leading the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the African-American Mayors Association.
  • Bottoms is leaving the White House at the end of March and returning to Atlanta to spend time with her family, officials said.

Driving the news: Benjamin told Axios in an interview that being a mayor and a "mayor of mayors" has positioned him well for the White House job.

  • "As my grandmother would say, 'God gives you two ears and one mouth for a reason: You're supposed to listen twice as much as you talk,' and you're so close to the people…it makes you that much more accountable."
  • "I'm excited about the possibility of engaging with citizens all across the country — including those who voted for President Biden and Vice President Harris, and those who did not."

Zoom in: Benjamin's tenure in Columbia spanned the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis and the deadly flooding in South Carolina in 2015, to the pandemic and recent protests against systematic racism.

  • Under his leadership, Columbia became one of the first U.S. cities to outlaw bump stocks, the attachments to semi-automatic rifles that dramatically increase the rate they can fire.
  • In 2018, Benjamin told "CBS This Morning"that "80% of all infrastructure is built by cities and state governments."
  • At that time, Benjamin tells Axios, "there was not a federal partner" for such large projects. "Now there is," he said, a reference to the Biden administration's success at getting a massive infrastructure package through Congress.

The intrigue: Benjamin will have Biden's ear as South Carolina becomes a focal point in the 2024 presidential election, after Democrats recently voted to make South Carolina's primary the nation's first contest next year, replacing Iowa.

What they're saying: "Mayors get things done," Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, told Axios in praising Benjamin's appointment. “That’s the nature of our job."

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