Four vie for mayor’s seat

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By Jesef Williams

Two familiar faces along with two political newcomers create the only four-person race for local voters this election season.
Donnie Birchfield, City Councilwoman Linda Blackmon-Brace, incumbent Joe Shaw and Mary Helen Yarborough are vying for Lancaster’s mayor’s seat. Shaw has held the post for 28 years.
Election Day is Nov. 2.
Birchfield, 40, said he was motivated to run for mayor after seeing the way officials have  handled crime in the city. Politicians have made empty promises and have yet to do anything to curtail criminal activity, he said.
Birchfield said the firing of former Lancaster Police Department officer Pat Parsons was unjust. He said he wants to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again.
Parsons was fired earlier this year following complaints that he used inappropriate language and threatened a teen while investigating a case.
A city grievance committee recommended that Parsons be reinstated, but City Council voted to uphold Police Chief Hugh White’s decision to fire him.
Birchfield said the mayor and other city leaders have to do a better job of standing by their employees.
“They should be free to do their job without having to worry about politics,” he said. “It made me see that our mayor is not taking a stand with his employees.”
Birchfield had worked in the financial sector for 18 years, most recently as an area director for Community Loans of America. Before that, he spent 11 years with Fast Cash Advance.
He said that experience will serve him well if elected mayor.
“I know how to treat people,” Birchfield said. “I feel like I’m fair to everyone.”  
A High Shoals, N.C., native, Birchfield is pastor at Friendship Baptist Church in Lancaster.
He and his wife, Wynette, have three children, Donnie Jr., Grady and Gracie.
Blackmon-Brace, 54, who is in her second term on council, said she’s passionate about City Council and will carry that same passion if elected mayor.
This is her second time vying for mayor.
After winning the City Council District 2 seat in 2002, she ran for mayor in 2006, losing to Shaw, the incumbent.
In 2008, she was elected to the City Council District 3 seat. That terms expires in 2012.
Blackmon-Brace said she’s accessible and has the time needed to be an effective mayor.
“I got the energy,” Blackmon-Brace said. “I got the will – everything you need.”
She said key issues would be to ensure all city employees are treated fairly. There have been some inconsistencies with pay and discipline within city departments, she said.
She said she will also place a huge emphasis on helping local small businesses thrive.
Blackmon-Brace said she’s affiliated with a network with ties to Washington, D.C., that includes a few South Carolina mayors. That network, which she didn’t name, will help her greatly if elected, she said.
Blackmon-Brace said she likes Yarborough as a candidate and hopes Lancaster’s next mayor is a woman.
“I feel very confident that I will be the mayor of the city,” Blackmon-Brace said. “If not, I will come a close second.”
She operates Linda Blackmon Unlimited Num 7, a real estate company she’s owned for 23 years.
She is married to Glenn Brace Sr. She doesn’t have any children.
Shaw, 75, hopes to win his eighth term as mayor.  
He was elected to City Council in 1976 and won the mayor’s seat in 1978. He was re-elected every four years afterward until 1994, when he was defeated by Robert Mobley.
But Shaw won the mayor’s seat again in 1998 and has held the post ever since.
Shaw said city services and overall quality of life for residents and employees have improved since he’s been mayor.
He points to the construction of the Municipal Justice Center and a second fire station and expansion of the city’s wastewater treatment plant as examples.
He said the city now has the infrastructure, such as available water supply, to accommodate more industry.
“What we need now is jobs and I’d sure like to play a huge part in it,” Shaw said.
Shaw said city and county officials must continue to work together to bring jobs to the area and combat gangs and drug-related crime.
Shaw cited increased pay and improved benefits for city employees, Lancaster’s Streetscape beautification project on Main Street and improvements at many of the city’s 14 parks as other advancements achieved since he’s been mayor.
Shaw said his experience makes him the best candidate.
“I’ve been there and done it,” he said. “I’ve demonstrated that I’m a person who’s a hands-on mayor and I’d love to be re-elected.”
A Lancaster native, Shaw and his wife, Charlotte, have a grown son, Joe Jr., and a granddaughter, JoAnna.
Yarborough, 52, said her main reason for running is to share ideas and to affect change, even if she isn’t victorious.
“I don’t care what happens Nov. 2,” she said. “I’m completely devoted.”
Yarborough wants to see a reduction in property taxes, aggressive grant acquisition and fewer regulations and fees for start-up businesses.
If elected, she said she will push for incentives for homeowners and businesses to renovate, revitalize and use older structures. She also wants to implement a moratorium on plans to incorporate more property into the city until the city improves services to existing residents and businesses.
She said she’d like for all council members to receive disaster training.
A Lancaster native, Yarborough moved away after high school and has been back in Lancaster since 2009.
She said living in other areas of the country allowed her to see what works well elsewhere. Lancaster needs a set of “fresh eyes,” she said.
“I’ve done a lot of research and I can see what needs to be adjusted and changed so things can move  forward,” she said. “We are staged to become a significant force in the state.”
Before Yarborough moved back to Lancaster last year, she lived in Charleston County, where she had worked in public relations for the Medical University of South Carolina.
She is unemployed now but does freelance writing.
Yarborough is single and doesn’t have any children.
Contact reporter Jesef Williams at (803) 283-1152