SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Barron Steward has worked in the fast-paced advertising industry in Chicago, sweated his way through trade school to become a pipefitter in Atlanta and spent a couple of months on personal sabbatical in Africa, but Social Circle is his home.
Love for his hometown has propelled this 40-year-old entrepreneur to run for mayor.
"We have an issue in Social Circle where people are leaving Social Circle -- bottom line," Steward said. "Many in my age group are leaving and the 20-year-olds are looking at leaving. As soon as they're out of high school, they're looking for the best possible exit."
He said by his reading of U.S. Census figures, Social Circle is populated by the very young or the very old, but the middle-age group -- the income-earners -- is leaving. Steward said that many of those that remain in the city are plagued by complacency.
Steward said of the approximately 4,262 individuals in Social Circle, only about 10 percent have voted in the last four elections.
"People need to get out of the house and vote," he said. "In looking at the history of blacks in the 1960s, so many died and shed blood just for the right to vote, and you don't take advantage of it. That's complacency. ... We all have the responsibility to be aware, informed and educated."
Steward said it is imperative that the city leadership do everything it can to make Social Circle an attractive place to live, raise a family and earn a living.
He proposes four general objectives: job creation and economic development, improved recreational opportunities for seniors, tourism, and improved public safety.
Steward said he has the talent and contacts to successfully recruit more businesses to Social Circle, as well as encourage more small business development. He said he will look for ways to increase the city's budget without raising taxes, utility costs or fees.
He said he believes tourism is an important component. While promoting local tourist attractions is essential, Steward said he wants to encourage city residents to visit other places.
"I'm convinced if we see what other towns are doing, we will be encouraged to improve our own," Steward said.
Finally, Steward said he will emphasize improving public safety.
"We cannot afford not to be safe, but I think maybe our public safety program has started to develop a reputation," he said. "As mayor, I would work to not further that reputation, but find a way to balance it. ... We can write a lot of tickets, but there is a reputation that comes with that."
Steward said he believes there is a way to keep the city safe, keep the Police Department intact, and yet stay officer-friendly.
"Keep me safe, and know me," Steward said.
He said every department in the city is "passionate about what they do," so the city needs to find solutions that work for all.
One initiative Steward will advocate will be to provide smoke detectors and batteries for city residents that can be installed by members of the Fire Department.
While this is Steward's first foray into local politics, he is no stranger to high-pressure jobs. After graduating from Social Circle High School, Steward began working in the advertising industry, eventually moving to Chicago, where he worked as art director for many large corporate accounts. After several years, he decided to take some time for self-reflection and spent about two months ministering in Africa. It was then that he realized he was homesick and moved back to Social Circle in 2003. Steward said he was ready for a new challenge, so he attended trade school and worked as a pipefitter for Mann Mechanical.
Most recently, he has used his entrepreneurial talents to help start up small businesses.
He and his wife, Tangi, live in Social Circle and have three children, Dejuan, 13, Delana, 6, and Morgan, 3.