The 18 year-old Mayor: A trend for younger candidates
As the youngest black mayor in the United States takes over the small city of Earle, Arkansas, 18 year old Jalen Smith now has a chance to make good on a promise for improved public safety and a reduction of blight in the city.
Mayor Smith declared that "it's time to build" during his victory speech. As he takes on his new role, he also charts a path for a potentially exciting political career. To get there, he has to take the best of what the city has to offer while contending with present-day civic challenges. Earl is a city with 2,164 residents not far from the metropolis of Memphis, Tennessee. It is a small town with a varied history. From its formal incorporation in 1905 until about 1940, Earle was the largest city in Crittenden County. The city even had a successful semiprofessional baseball team established in 1908. The Earle Cardinals was also a professional basketball team, starting in the 1920s, that brought national acclaim to the city.
While the city has historic links to the Confederacy and even the Klan, times have certainluy changed in Earle. Black or African American (Non-Hispanic) make up 72.9% of the population. White (Non-Hispanic) make up 15.2%. The little city has plenty of upside including a balanced city budget. The new Mayor will have an opportunity to take the city to the next level.
The historic win for Smith highlights a slowly but steadily growing trend of young, energetic, intelligent leaders seeking to improve their respective communities, cities, counties and their respective States.
It is not the first news of such victories, you may have heard about Robert Frost, the Young 28-year-old newly elected congressman from Central Florida. We'lll share more about him in a future edition but he made national headlines as a young and energetic millennial taking matters into his own hands.
The idea of running for office is becoming less about age and more about vision and execution. However there's no ignoring the fact that younger energetic candidates are stepping to the plate to address what they consider is and the social economic and political systems that we see today.
There are candidates today running for office as a publicity stunt. But once the campaigning begins and the serious questions come at you in rapid fire, it becomes clear if a candidate is ready or not. In Smith's case, he appears incredibly mature and focused on the task at hand. only time will tell how we he governs the small city.
There are plenty of factors that are motivating younger candidates. For starters, thousands of young candidates are watching in real time how poor behavior and irrational support for divisive and hateful politics are vividly on display in congress. Recent appointments of poorly qualified members of congress to important committees are sounding alrms to young leaders keeping track of the nonesense. As the status quo becomes more radical and more extreme, politics, we are likely to see more millennial and gen z candidates that believe they could do a much better job helping America get on track.
Millennials comprise a large, diverse and important part of the U.S. electorate this year. But they are also an increasing portion of candidates for local and state elections. According to the Millennial Action Project (MAP), an organization tracking young people running for office across the country, record numbers of people under 45 are running for office this year. With issues such as climate change and wage stagnation at the forefront of people’s minds, many millennial candidates say they want a hand in shaping policy that will affect their future.
To be clear, Smith, at 18 is not the norm but as news spreads about his recent win, the door begins to open for others who believe they can do the same. This especially applies to opportunities in smaller towns where campaigning requires less money and more organic, retail politics. Keep in mind that millennials and gen z are a population segment that is far larger than baby boomers.
To put it more bluntly, younger candidates are going to continue to gain confidence in themselves while losing confidence in the present representatives.
The increase in millennials running for office spans almost equally across both parties. According to MAP, 40% of candidates under 45 running for the House of Representatives are Republicans. But this generation is more likely than any other to identify as independent, or at least not fit neatly into the ideological box of either party.
The pandemic in particular has provided a unique opportunity to young candidates. In a time where large gatherings are banned for safety and people are confined to their homes, young candidates generally possess the unique advantage of knowing how to campaign online — specifically through social media.