COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — President Joe Biden has appointed former Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Steve Benjamin as a top White House adviser, taking over from Keisha Lance Bottoms, the former Atlanta mayor who had assumed the role in June.
Both Georgia and South Carolina have become crucial to the Democratic Party ahead of the 2024 election cycle. South Carolina holds the Democrats’ first nominating contest, and Georgia helped solidify the Democrats’ Senate majority during the 2022 midterms and in 2020 gave Biden a rare win in a southern state that hasn’t backed a Democrat for president in 30 years.
Benjamin will become director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, overseeing efforts “to ensure community leaders, diverse perspectives, and new voices have the opportunity to inform the work of the President in an inclusive, transparent and responsible way,” according to the White House. In a release Monday, Biden called Benjamin a “longtime public servant” whose “deep relationships across the country” would well serve the administration.
Benjamin, 53, has long been considered a rising star in Democratic politics, serving three terms as Columbia’s mayor, and the first Black mayor in the city’s history. Serving as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and African Americans Mayors Association, Benjamin spoke at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and was among the candidates considered for Hillary Clinton’s running mate that year. He opted not to run for a fourth term in 2021.
The appointment comes at a time when Benjamin’s home state is becoming even more critical to Democrats as they face the 2024 presidential campaign. Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee voted to hold their first nominating contest of the next cycle in South Carolina, supplanting Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada in an effort to more deeply represent the desires of Black voters.
In South Carolina’s 2020 primary, Benjamin met with nearly all of the 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls, offering advice as they wound their way through South Carolina, a state in which support from Black voters is critical to Democratic candidates’ success. Benjamin initially gave his endorsement to former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg before supporting Biden, who scored a thundering win in the state’s primary.
Benjamin also served in the administration of Gov. Jim Hodges, who in 1998 was the most recent Democrat elected to South Carolina’s highest office. Earlier this year, his wife, DeAndrea Gist Benjamin, was sworn in as a judge on the 4th US. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, appointed to the post by Biden.