The Dartmouth, Jennifer Argote/AP
County Treasurer-elect Vanessa Sievers

Are Younger Politicians the Trend of the Future?

November 14, 2008 04:03 PM
by Rachel Balik
A 20-year-old beat an incumbent county treasurer in New Hampshire, illustrating a movement away from apathy toward political involvement among young people.

Dartmouth Student Defeats Incumbent County Treasurer

Many say Barack Obama owes his election to the enthusiasm and hard work of his young supporters. Observers laud his campaign as a sign that what some have seen as the political apathy of America’s youth is on its way out. But Carol Elliot, who lost her seat as Grafton County treasurer in New Hampshire to a 20-year-old Dartmouth student, accused “brainwashed college kids” of costing her the election, the Associated Press reports.

Elliot was the county treasurer for three terms and was running for her fourth when Vanessa Sievers, a junior at Dartmouth College, joined the Democratic ticket. In a phone interview with AP, Sievers defended college students against Elliot’s accusations, saying, “I don't know why people think college students are less informed than other members of the community. A lot of students get very, very involved in their communities.” Sievers beat Elliot by nearly 600 votes.

The new county treasurer is already making plans for investing Grafton County’s assets, which are valued at $18 million. She told The Dartmouth, Dartmouth’s student newspaper, that she plans to change Elliot’s strategy of only investing in small banks and will diversify the assets and invest on a “larger scale.”

Sievers has served on the executive board of the College Democrats since her freshman year at the school. She explained that she has always been interested in the financial aspects of organizations, as she believes they are the most effective method for strengthening a community. In addition to making the county’s investments more lucrative, she hopes to prove during her term that college students are in fact in touch with the real world.

Historical Context: The trend in young politicians

This new generation has ushered in not only younger voters, but a new group of younger politicians as well. In 2001, John Brenner was 33 years old and was elected as mayor of York, Penn., becoming the youngest mayor in city history. He told Harrisburg Magazine that he has loved politics since he was a child, and that he was inspired to run for office as a way to combat the corruption he saw. Brenner received the Governor’s Award for Local Government Excellence in 2005.

Soon after Brenner, a younger, more controversial mayor took office in Pittsburgh, Penn. Luke Ravenstahl became the acting mayor of Pittsburgh when Mayor Bob O’Connor died, and was successfully reelected in 2007 in a special election. At the age of 27, Ravenstahl was popular with the public but seemed to have some learning to do. He was involved in a series of small-scale scandals, such as misuse of a government vehicle and allegedly getting drunk at a football game. But as one citizen told The New York Times, “The abandoned cars get gone, street lights get fixed. The place is safe. That’s what matters to me.”

Perhaps inspired by other young mayors, an ambitious 20-year-old named Raul de Jesus ran for the office of mayor in Hartford, Conn., in 2007. He felt he understood how City Hall worked because he had worked for incumbent Mayor Eddie Perez, WCVBTV reported. De Jesus was one of five Democrats running, and although he caught a great deal of media attention, he did not win the election.

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