COLUMBIA, S.C. — This year’s race for City Council in South Carolina’s capital city is getting off to a big start, with one of the first candidates of the season announcing his campaign this week. The candidate, Tige Watts, is reportedly among the first openly gay candidates for office in Columbia.
Watts, 42, made his announcement to Columbia’s Free Times on Monday. He is a longtime neighborhood activist and political strategist. He’ll challenge Cameron Runyan, a first-term, at-large Council member, according to The State. Runyan has been heavily criticized for his sole vote against same-sex partner benefits for city employees, even after having past solicited the local LGBT community for support in his campaign.
Watts has said he disagrees with Runyan’s vote on that measure — “It’s an issue of equality,” he said, according to The State — and other issues, including a city proposal to provide $88 million in public money to a private development and an initiative by Runyan to relocate homeless persons in downtown Columbia.
The campaign from Watts is his first time running for office, but he told the Free Times he wished he’d run before, “flirting” with the idea in 2012.
“Every day that [Runyan] has made some of his boneheaded decisions, I’ve kind of kicked myself for not running against him before, in 2012,” Watts told the altnewsweekly.
Watts has already garnered the support of at least one well-known LGBT community leader. Harriet Hancock, after whom Columbia’s LGBT center is named, took to Facebook Wednesday with a message of encouragement.
“I support Tige 100% and strongly believe he stands a good chance of being elected,” Hancock wrote. “I was one of the people who asked him to run and pledged my support to help in his campaign. He will be an excellent city councilman. He is smart and has the experience to be effective. I hope others will get on board and support him. He needs our help. Runyan needs to go!”
Watts lives in Columbia with his spouse, Nigel Mahaffey. The two have been together for 22 years and married last February in San Diego. Together they own the firm Campaign Research and Strategy.