Chris McBarnes will graduate from Butler University in December with a job – mayor of Frankfort, Ind.
The 23-year-old communications major in the College of Communication scored an overwhelming victory in the Nov. 8 election, receiving 75 percent of the vote in the Clinton County community of 16,000.
“I’m happy to have a job Jan. 1,” he said the morning after Election Day, “and I have to tell you, I’m thinking this will be the toughest job interview I’ve ever had in my life. If I made it through this, I’m pretty confident I can do about anything.”
McBarnes, a Republican, describes himself as “not your typical 23-year-old” – and not because he’s the youngest mayor in Indiana. At 14, he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that caused inflammation in his body. Doctors gave him medications that adversely affected his immune system, causing severe infections. The infections damaged tissue in different parts of his body, requiring surgical reconstruction.
He’s been treated at the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
Now, “doctors have it under control,” he said. “I feel great. The only thing that separates me from the average human being is, I take a couple of pills every day. And I thank God for that.”
Illness, McBarnes said, made him realize that time is precious.
“When I saw my community heading in the wrong direction, a direction I did not agree with, a direction that was taking the power out of the people’s hands … I decided, ’Why not step up and try to make a difference in my hometown?’” he said.
McBarnes decided to run for mayor two years ago. He declared his candidacy for the Republican primary in October 2010 and filed in January to get on the ballot.
He’d been active in his community – as music minister in his church and a local volunteer coordinator – as are his parents. So the McBarnes name is known in Frankfort. To make sure voters took him seriously, McBarnes surrounded himself with “iconic” community members – a physician, a banker and his church pastor – to show that even though he’s young, he’s respected.
After that, the campaign ran on legwork. He went door-to-door on Saturdays, knocked on thousands of doors and “wore out two good pairs of Reebok sneakers,” he said.
“I knew I couldn’t simply just go out and activate voters,” he said. “I had to engage citizens. I had to show them I had the intellect and critical-thinking skills and listening skills to actually be a good mayor and I was not doing this ‘because it’s a cool thing to do.’ ”
He won the May primary with 60 percent of the vote.
Now, he’s getting ready to graduate Butler and dive into his 100-day plan for Frankfort. Details are at electchrismcbarnes.com, as is his strategic communications plan to improve city communication and network more efficiently.
“I could never have done this without my education at Butler University,” the mayor-elect said. “My time in the communications department and the anthropology department has taught me essential leadership skills and critical thinking skills that made this journey possible, that made me a credible, sustainable and viable candidate for the citizens of Frankfort. I’m very proud to say that I’m a Butler Bulldog, and that will stay with me the rest of my life.”