By David Hanson
Edited by Jackie Alexander
Behind a wooden desk in a brick building on Camden's Lyttleton Street sits a thin, fresh-faced, blue-eyed young man wearing thin-rimmed glasses, a yellow bow tie and a wide grin.
He is Jeffrey Graham, 27, and this is his office - the mayor's office.
He might be the youngest of the 84 mayors in the history of Camden, the oldest inland city in the state. Graham is not sure.
"I don't think anybody has actually dug through the records and looked," he said. "But I doubt this town has ever elected anybody younger than me."
Born and raised in Camden, Graham, who was chairman of the Kershaw County Democratic Party, edged out two-term incumbent Mary Y. Clark last November by 208 votes out of 3,595 cast. Knocking on nearly 2,000 doors, he thinks, is what won him the election in the small city of about 7,000 people.
"I got out there and shook as many hands and met as many people as I possibly could," Graham said. "It just worked out." -
Some Camden residents feel Graham's election was exactly what the city needed.
"The best thing about the new mayor is that he's not the old one," said Bud Howell, 66. "I think he's doing an outstanding job."
Those familiar with his family say he comes from good stock.
"If he's anything like his dad, he will do very well," said Larry Davis, 58. "Everyone here seems pleased with him."
Graham graduated in 2001 from Camden High School, where he was president of the student body as well as the Key Club and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. But Graham did not always have political ambitions.
"I never thought I'd be Camden's mayor," he said.
After graduating from Presbyterian College in Clinton, Graham moved back to Camden and began working at his family's business, Graham Realty Inc., where he still works part time. Graham met his wife, Sara, at Presbyterian; the two are expecting their first child in May.
Graham says his love for his city quickly pushed him into the political arena, first as vice president of tourism for the city, the home of the annual Carolina Cup horse race.
From there, Graham said, he decided it was time to run for the $10,000-a-year job as mayor. -"I just thought I should do it," Graham said, "so I did."
He now presides over a city with about 150 employees and a $25 million budget.
The Democrat says he thinks the greatest aspect of Camden is its sense of community. He saw this recently when Camden High's boys basketball team won the state championship in Columbia.
"If you wanted to meet with somebody from Camden that day, you had to go to Columbia," Graham said.
Much is expected of Graham, said retired Camden High teacher David Brown, 65. Brown has known the young mayor since Graham was a teen.
"People here want new things, different things," he said. "I think Jeffrey is definitely what we need in office."
In the past year, Camden has lost three major retailers, Steve & Barry's, Goody's and Peebles. Many smaller storefronts on Broad Street, Camden's main drag, are also vacant. As a result, the young mayor's main goal is to bring new businesses downtown.
The city has hired Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., a national firm that specializes in architecture and town planning, to create a "Vision Plan" for Camden. Graham's goal is to successfully implement the plan.
"It's easy to have someone make you a master plan, and then there's a tendency to do nothing with it," City Manager Kevin Bronson said. "Jeffrey is giving the resources and time to make something of it."
The plan includes adding new retailers and putting utilities underground on Rutledge Street, which leads to City Hall. The utility work is already in progress, and research is being done to find retailers, Graham said.
Despite the recession, Graham still thinks he can make Camden better off than it was when he was growing up.
"This is my hometown," he said as he looked across the wooden desk in the small City Hall office on Lyttleton Street. "I want to see it succeed."