I have a column out today about the possibility of the City of College Park where I attend graduate school lowering the minimum age required for being a candidate for city council from 21 to 18 years old. I come out in favor of this change.
Improving College Park: The case for a student voice
By Matt Dernoga
Monday, October 18, 2010
The College Park City Council will be considering legislation Oct. 26 on whether to lower the minimum candidate age for city council office from 21 to 18 years old. Last year, I was very active in the city elections with the student group UMD for Clean Energy. Although we didn’t run any student candidates, we had an active role in raising awareness of environmental issues facing the city that candidates should address. Based on this experience, I have some insights on why I think lowering the age limit to 18 would be great for College Park.
You might think of College Park politics as limited to serving on the city council, but I consider it being involved in the community and having a stake in the neighborhood. Despite all that College Park has to offer, citizen participation often leaves city officials wanting, as it is very difficult to find not only candidates to run for office but also more members to sit on advisory committees. Student participation especially is almost nonexistent.
As a result, most students don’t care about the well-being of College Park. When you’re not involved in your community, you’re more likely to disrespect it. Indeed, I’ve heard city residents rightfully complain about noise violations, a lack of cooperation in combating crime and hundreds of beer bottles, cans and cups left in parts of Old Town after parties. When a large part of the population is completely disengaged from its community, College Park hurts.
Development and transportation issues could badly use student involvement. If residents aren’t talking to students, they often have to deal with whatever the university administration decides it wants. Engaged students serve as a check on university actions that impact the city. As new projects such as the East Campus redevelopment, the Purple Line and additional student housing are shaped, students need to play a role. UMD for Clean Energy met with city council candidates on these kinds of issues last year, and many of those candidates welcomed student input and were pleased to find we had common ground.
Lowering the age limit to 18 will draw more students running for office. However, candidates who stand a chance at winning elections will not be stereotypical college students filing their papers and then walking over to Thirsty Turtle with a fake ID. They’ll be ambitious, politically motivated young people who were involved in Young Democrats or Young Republicans in high school, interned for a politician or ran for a position in the Student Government Association. In order to stand a prospect at winning, they’ll have to go to civic association meetings, knock on doors, develop a platform and genuinely build a connection with city residents. These will be the students who are more likely to stay involved in the city after they run because of their newfound connection with the community, as are their student supporters. Some may end up living here.
What if a student wins? They’re probably very smart and talented for their age if they can pull it off. All people are different, and most students aren’t interested or qualified, but there are exceptional 18 to 20 year olds who are mature beyond their years and would be effective on the city council.
Lowering the running age will mean greater involvement in bettering College Park, which is something that should make every member of the city council smile, and vote yes.
Matt Dernoga is a graduate student in public policy and is the son of Tom Dernoga, the chairman of the Prince George’s County Council. He can be reached at dernoga at umdbk dot com