The City of Georgetown saw history made Tuesday night.
Longtime City Councilman Brendon Barber Sr. was elected as the city’s first black mayor when he defeated challenger Ron Charlton.
“It has clearly hit me, particularly on a national level,” Barber said on being the city’s first black mayor, and added national news organizations have reached out to him since his win.
“I accept the responsibility, but folks have to realize I’m a seventh generation Georgetonian,” he told The Sun News on Thursday.
“My family, we know or know of everyone in the city, their families and we’ve always worked together, so it’s just a natural transition for me … even though I recognize … that I’m the first, I also recognize that I’m a hometown boy, and I have a lot friends and family here, and they come from all neighborhoods, and they come from all walks of life.”
While Barber, 63, is honored to be a history maker, he prefers to take a colorblind approach to his office, and said he thought of his parents when he won, particularly his mother who taught in the school system for 44 years.
“We’ve never really thought of it in terms like that before, because my mom taught everyone and that’s the way we grew up,” he said. “The last time I checked my DNA … I’m a hundred percent human … but I understand the responsibility, and I understand the recognition.”
He isn’t spending his time basking in the limelight cast on him by the historical victory.
Instead, he’s got his sleeves rolled up and is itching to get to work.
“Getting elected, that’s the easy part … Now the work begins,” he said.
Mayor-elect Barber won’t officially take office until January, but he’s already got a long to-do list, aiming to make the city more united, grow its businesses, develop housing, and also wants to strengthen the bonds among neighboring counties.
While Barber has been on city council since 1998 and is the mayor pro tempore, he had never run for mayor before his historic win, and said he and his wife Pamela just felt like now was the right moment to take that step.
“We just thought together, that there was a spirit and a movement and it was just time to move forward and bring folks together … There’s been too much isolation between neighborhoods, and what we have to do is bridge that gap and bring folks into one,” he said, stressing that personal relationship building is key for him.
Before Tuesday night’s victory, Barber beat incumbent Mayor Jack Scoville in a primary runoff in June. Scoville had served as mayor since 2009.
Barber didn’t stop door-to-door campaigning until the polls closed on election night. He said he spent time canvassing the city on foot, knocking on doors, meeting people and learning about their concerns, which ran the spectrum from potholes in roads to questions about the now-shuttered steel mill and other jobs.
“People were concerned about how are we going to grow Georgetown, particularly jobs,” said Barber, who noted part of his vision includes tapping into nearby Mount Pleasant’s growth in the technology field and partnering with them to potentially make Georgetown a tech community too.
While he has a lot of ideas about potential industry, other plans for the city include the possibilities of starting a fellowship program for high school students to introduce them to the inner workings of local government, and partnering with Habitat for Humanity.
A son of the city
Barber plans to draw from his wide range of experience and city knowledge to guide him as he takes the city’s highest office.
Barber grew up in the port city, and he was awarded a football scholarship after graduating from Winyah High School. He attended Michigan State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master’s degree in urban development.
When he returned to Georgetown, he became an employee for the Georgetown County School District and has worked there for more than 30 years.
He’s served on boards and has been active in the city scene for decades, and he and his wife raised their four children there. Two of his three sons are Naval Academy graduates and have careers in Florida, while his daughter lives in Los Angeles, where she works as an actress, director and producer. He said will have an appearance on an upcoming episode of “S.W.A.T.”
“She’s been acting since age 14. She started on ‘The Shield,’ ” he said of his daughter, who holds a degree from University of Southern California in interactive media and is one of the youngest to be involved in the school’s film and television production program on a graduate level, he boasted.
“They’ve always been leaders in the community – his family and mine,” said Tupelo Humes, a Georgetown City Council newcomer.
Humes also just got elected to office Tuesday night, and said he’s looking forward to Barber’s leadership and mentorship, along with others on council.
“I grew up two blocks away from Brendon. I know him very well. I support him a hundred percent,” said Humes.
Humes, a longtime steel mill worker who now works for International Paper, said this was his first bid for a city council seat, and he felt like now was the time to run when he looked at the ticket and saw Barber’s name too, stating Barber and other councilmen could serve as great teachers for him.
“I think that Georgetown spoke when they elected him because they believed in him that he would do exactly as he says,” said Humes.
Georgetown keeps making history
Georgetown is no stranger to making national history. The city, founded in 1729 by the Reverend Elisha Screven, is also the hometown of Joseph Hayne Rainey, the first African American to be elected to Congress.
From 1870 to 1866, he served in the House of Representatives. His parents were slaves, but were able to buy freedom for their family, according to Mary Boyd, volunteer at the Georgetown County Museum, who said she was excited to see the city make history again.
She also gushed about Barber, and said she knows he has a heart for Georgetown like the city’s past mayors.
“Brendon Barber will represent all citizens of Georgetown with his long experience on the city council,” Boyd said. “His knowledge of the workings of all segments of our society will be helpful in moving Georgetown forward.”