The Dernogalizer

April 14, 2009

City Council Column

Filed under: Dernoga,MD Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 2:59 pm
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So I decided to take a week to go in a different direction and defend the notion that in the town my college is in(College Park) students under the age of 21(but 18 or over) should be allowed to run for citywide office.  Right now, you have to be 21 or older, and when asked about whether or not this rule should be adjusted to 18, a city councilman named Bob Catlin had some pretty unfavorable comments about it.   I disagreed with them, so here is my column addressing them.

City council: Encourage adolescent activity

MATT DERNOGA

Lowering the minimum age for College Park City Council candidates to 18 would mean incompetent people could be elected more easily, because the people who’d vote for them are uninformed. That would be a disaster. So said District 2 Councilman Bob Catlin last week. 

I know that 99 out of 100 people reading this just said, “Who the hell is Bob Catlin?” This might make Catlin sound correct in his opposition to making it easier for students to run for citywide office.

Before I unleash the fury (or mild amusement), let’s go over a few things. I don’t have any standing grudge against anyone on the city council. I’ve met with quite a few of them and found they’re friendly people who care about the city. I’m not for getting some student out from under the barstool on the city council. The 99 of you who don’t know who Bob Catlin is probably wouldn’t get my vote if I actually lived in College Park.

What was that about people voting for a student being uninformed? Catlin is actually right, but for the wrong reason. Most of the 95 people who voted for Catlin last election were also “uninformed” on the intricate issues of the city. Most people who vote don’t know all the issues. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also common knowledge to anyone who has tried talking to someone else about politics. Something like half the country thought the Republicans were in charge of Congress in 2008 when the economy tanked. The other half likely said, “Congress?” 

Voters are bad enough. Have you ever tried talking to a politician? Some of them have no clue what they’re talking about or doing. Some learn on the job. Even Catlin, if he’s reading this, is probably like, “Yeah, I know them.” I remember attending the widely advertised city council election debate in 2007, where Catlin and two other candidates squared off in a battle of wits in front of 17 college students. It wasn’t terribly impressive. Definitely wouldn’t scare any prospective student candidates away.

To be fair, Catlin is informed on issues, but why shouldn’t he be? He has more than a decade of experience in city politics, and I can understand why he’d be wary of a student who doesn’t know the city inside out. But I’ll bet there was a time when Catlin didn’t know nearly as much as he does now about the city. He might even consider his old self uninformed. Then he got involved.

Here is where Catlin is wrong. He berates students for lacking knowledge, yet discourages them from getting into the issues by effectively preventing them from running. A big problem in our country is there aren’t enough young people involved in politics. This is in part due to money constraints, but in cities like College Park, it’s age discrimination. As a result, our societies often lack fresh ideas and new perspectives. Our small towns and cities need youth involvement the most, because the best ideas usually start local and work their way to the top.

I’d consider supporting a qualified student, but first, all resident students in College Park older than 18 should be allowed to run, learn and lose. Or win. Maybe then, only 98 of you won’t know who Bob Catlin is.

Matt Dernoga is a junior government and politics major whose father serves on the Prince George’s County Council. He can be reached at mdernoga@umd.edu

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