Given the challenges faced today, our natural growth within cities requires us to think bigger. COVID-19 has spread at an unprecedented pace wreaking havoc on life as we know it including loss of jobs, inequity in education, and requirements for municipal broadband. We must be inspired to innovate within and across our cities. Our will to fight back against COVID-19 can recalibrate opportunities, services, technology and our potential to grow.
IGNITE in partnership with NLC is launching monthly roundtable conversations to hear directly from mayors on how they are thinking about the transformation of their cities. Local leaders are agreed that a new path forward has been unlocked offering new opportunities, identifying methods for new growth in addition to presenting a new way of living.
In order to transform our cities, there has to be an acknowledgement and agreement that a new path forward will unlock new opportunities, identify methods for new growth and present a new way of living. This only occurs when our local governments are standing together with their residents. Our roundtable conversation will inspire us to believe and engage. While Jobs, education and broadband are the topics, our focus is completely based on people.
Meet a few of our Mayors
Mayor Steve Benjamin
Since being elected mayor in a record turnout election in April 2010, Mayor Steve Benjamin has made it his mission to create in Columbia the most talented, educated and entrepreneurial city in America. His service in Columbia started back in 1990 when he served as student body president at the University of South Carolina, later becoming the Student Bar Association President at the USC School of Law.At 29 years old in 1999, Benjamin was appointed to Governor Jim Hodges' cabinet as director of the state's second largest law enforcement agency, the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. Mayor Benjamin has continued his service to the community in serving on numerous boards for nonprofit organizations such as the Columbia Urban League, Benedict College, the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce and as a founding board member of the Eau Claire Promise Zone. He also served as a founding member of Choose Children First and chief legal counsel for Midlands Crimestoppers. In 2009, Benjamin drew national attention by representing prominent radio host Tom Joyner and securing a pardon for Joyner's great uncles wrongfully convicted in the death of a 73-year-old Confederate veteran and executed in 1913. In a landmark decision, the South Carolina Board of Paroles and Pardons voted unanimously to grant the posthumous pardon, the first for South Carolina in a capital case. As part of his commitment to fostering a world class police department in the City, Mayor Benjamin introduced the “Justice for All” initiative in 2014, which implemented new training, competitive pay, diverse representation and community engagement to strengthen the foundation of trust and accountability that exists between our communities and law enforcement agencies. President Obama’s administration has also commended Mayor Benjamin on his work on behalf of My Brother’s Keeper (MBK). The city’s MBK efforts, in addition to Mayor Benjamin’s leadership, have led to Columbia being seen as a nationwide leader in implementing and upholding the missions of the program. Mayor Benjamin was asked to speak at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where he talked about the importance of instilling in his daughters that they can do anything they set their minds to, even becoming President of the United States. In December 2017, Mayor Benjamin initiated city ordinance 2017-109, which banned the attachment of bump stocks and trigger cranks in the City of Columbia, making Columbia the first city in the nation to do so. He is a firm believer in common sense bipartisan leadership and endeavors to implement policies and programming that provide the best course of action for city residents. In addition to serving as Mayor of Columbia, Mayor Benjamin also served as the President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and as Chairman for Municipal Bonds for America. He teaches a class at the University of South Carolina Honors College and Columbia College titled “Columbia, South Carolina: Building a Great City” and is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi and Sigma Pi Phi fraternities. Mayor Benjamin is married to the Honorable DeAndrea Gist Benjamin, Chief Administrative Judge (Common Pleas) for South Carolina's Fifth Judicial Circuit. The two are the proud parents of daughters Bethany (13) and Jordan Grace (11).
Mayor LaToya Cantrell
Mayor Cantrell’s life has been steeped in community service. As a little girl, her grandmother would bring her to neighborhood meetings, and by the age of 13, she was serving as secretary for her local chamber of commerce. “My soul found its home in New Orleans,” is how Mayor Cantrell describes her arrival in 1990 as a student at Xavier University. After graduation, she and her husband, Jason, bought a home in the Broadmoor neighborhood, and Cantrell became an active member of her new community. As the President of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, Cantrell led the neighborhood’s redevelopment following Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. Flooding decimated Broadmoor, but through citizen engagement and Cantrell’s leadership, Broadmoor is now considered an international model for disaster recovery. Elected to the City Council in 2012, Cantrell has prioritized improving people’s lives. On May 7, 2018, Mayor Cantrell was sworn in as the first female Mayor of New Orleans, just in time to celebrate the city’s tricentennial or 300th anniversary. She is a dedicated wife to her husband, Jason, proud mother of her daughter, RayAnn, and a parishioner at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church. Mayor Cantrell pledges to produce results that will create a more equitable and safe New Orleans for all residents.
Mayor Francis Suarez
Francis X. Suarez serves the City of Miami as Mayor, working diligently to raise the standards of the community where he was born and raised. He currently also serves as Vice-Chair of the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization, tasked with approving federally required plans and transportation policies, and as President of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities. Prior to being elected mayor, he served as commissioner for District 4 for eight years. The oldest of four siblings, Mayor Suarez was born into a family where, as he describes, “being socially conscious was a kind of requirement.” Mayor Suarez is dedicated to elevating the quality of life of the residents he serves by way of focusing on transportation and connectivity issues within the city and beyond, nurturing the growth of a tech-based economy in the area and, by extension, job creation and international opportunities with Latin America. His priorities also include affordable housing, tackling the poverty pandemic and, as a corollary, reducing crime. Mayor Suarez graduated from Florida International University where he majored in finance and graduated in the top ten percent of his class. He went on to law school at the University of Florida Frederic G. Levin College of Law, graduating cum laude. Prior to running for public office, Mayor Suarez founded a successful real estate firm. He is also a practicing attorney with the law firm of Carlton Fields, specializing in real estate and corporate transactions. Mayor Suarez is married to Gloria M. Fonts. They have one child – Andrew Xavier – and consider themselves proud and blessed to be raising their family in the City of Miami.