The year 2000 was not a good time to be young and in charge, particularly in New Jersey. It was October of that year when Union City mayor Rudy Garcia and Camden mayor Milton Milan, aged 36 and 37 respectively, were brought down on corruption charges. So why have American mayors been getting progressively younger?
It was a big deal—even by Jersey standards—and these scandals cast serious doubt on how young a mayor should be in the Unites States. Since then, residents of the two New Jersey towns returned to the safe and loving arms of tenured political veterans when it came time to elect a mayor. But the trend didn’t stick.
Most Americans didn’t notice the baby face of mayoral politics until Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl temporarily changed his name to Luke Steelerstahl in the days leading up to his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers’ January playoff game against the unfortunately-named Baltimore Ravens (Ravenstahl-Steelerstahl, get it?) It was more a stroke of brilliant marketing than an act of political expedience, but it earned the 28-year-old Ravenstahl some brownie points. Not bad for a man who became the mayor of one of the country’s biggest cities when he was 26. A quick look around the country sees youngsters, and in some cases teenagers, running for local office and actually doing some pretty cool stuff once in office.
In the past two years, the number of American mayors in their late-teens and early-to-mid-twenties has seen a curious spike. They include 21-year old Michael Raatz of Abbotsford, Wisconsin, 21-year old Christopher Seeley of Linesville, Pennsylvania, 23-year old Hannah Stouts of Stanley, Idaho, 21-year old Michael Sessions of Hillsdale, Michigan, and 22-year old Matt Delligatti of Fairmont, West Virginia. Admittedly, most of these young mayors are running small towns, but these names are just a small piece of a political youth movement.
Easy as it could have been to disregard these young mayors as underaged arrivistes, recent press has given some of the newer young mayors glowing reviews. A 19-year old when he was elected mayor of Muskogee, Oklahoma last May, University of Oklahoma student John Tyler Hammons has quickly become a mover within the Republican Party, despite not being able to buy a beer at the local dive bar. His first public mayoral address in September drew the biggest crowd in town history. Meanwhile, 22-year old Nick Bozarth of Napavine, Washington was recently hailed by the Seattle Times for his mayoral initiatives, including ordering that city workers refrain from drinking during work hours and suspending the local police chief. So much for youth being wasted on the young.
The English Parliament has also initiated a unique program encouraging young people to run for office. MP Hazel Blears, who also serves as the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, just recently announced a 2-million pound (about $2.8 million) initiative to fund 20 new “young mayors” all over the UK. These “young mayors” don’t actually inhabit the mayor’s office, but they do give young people aged 11 to 18 a budget to serve the needs of young people in their towns. No word yet on how this program directly influences youth involvement in politics, but the kids are taking over regardless.