Here come the millennials: A look at young mayors moving into City Hall

Posted 10/5/17

On Tuesday, Birmingham voters selected the city’s youngest mayor in 100 years.

At 36, Randall Woodfin is a borderline millennial.

He is a member of the Generation Y wing, those of us who were …

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Here come the millennials: A look at young mayors moving into City Hall

Posted

On Tuesday, Birmingham voters selected the city’s youngest mayor in 100 years.

At 36, Randall Woodfin is a borderline millennial.

He is a member of the Generation Y wing, those of us who were born in Reagan’s America and watched the world we would soon inherit change from our high school or college classrooms on Sept. 11, 2001.

Also on Tuesday, the fictional Courtney Rose was elected mayor of Fort Grey, Calif.

Rose, portrayed by Brandon Michael Hall on ABC’s new series “The Mayor,” ran for office hoping to boost his rap career and was caught off guard when voters chose him to take the city in a new direction.

The premise is clearly a riff on Donald Trump’s presidency. However, I checked out the show because I was interested to see its take on millennial mayors.

There are a growing number of them, including 26-year-old Matt Shorraw. He decided to run for mayor in his hometown of Monessen, Pa., last summer after hearing Donald Trump promise to bring jobs back to a steel mill that closed 30 years ago.

His grandmother advised against it.

“She would say, ‘Let someone else worry about it. Don’t stay here; move somewhere else,’” Shorraw said in an article posted Thursday at Salon.com. “A lot of people think Monessen is unfixable.”

In May, he defeated incumbent Mayor Lou Mavrakis in the Democratic primary.

Mavrakis, a 79-year-old retired steel worker, is the one who invited Trump to speak in Monessen, population 7,500. In interviews with members of the national press following the visit, he railed against the Democratic Party for not caring enough about the people in his devastated former steel town.

Shorraw protested when Trump came to town and eventually earned the endorsement of his local Democratic Party in the primary.

In a report on his win, NBC News said Sharrow looked “more like the stereotype of a Brooklyn hipster than a Rust Belt worker. His announcement video features him wearing a plaid shirt and blazer with thick-rimmed plastic glasses.”

Mavrakis, who has launched a write-in campaign for the general election in November, threw more shade in the Salon article: “I worked 19 years on the coke ovens where you couldn’t see 5 feet in front of your face,” Mavrakis said. “Ask him if he’s ever had a job.”

Put-downs aside, there comes a time in American politics when it is time to pass the flag to the next generation.

Much ado was made when Bill Clinton became the first Baby Boomer president in 1992.

Though millennials can run for president now (the oldest turned 35 last year), some voters aren’t quite ready for that.

“Nobody wants them near the nation’s nuclear football, but with the mundanity of municipal governance, the child-mayors will be fine. Maybe we’ll get some good bike paths in their wake,” Boston Globe columnist Jennifer Graham wrote in 2013.

But one day a millennial will be commander-in-chief, and it’s possible that he or she is learning the ropes right now at a City Hall somewhere.

In January 2013, Governing magazine profiled several millennial mayors who were making waves with their newfangled ideas.

In Ithaca, N.Y., for example, Mayor Svante Myrick had his parking spot converted into a tiny public park where he sometimes gathers with constituents. He no longer needed the space because he uses public transit.

Other mayors were cited for gains made in fiscal reform, revitalization and education.

“With this new generation of elected officials, I think you have people who see the potential in public service to establish a new framework to how we approach these things, to be solution-minded and to bring a sense of optimism,” Don Ness, the millennial mayor of Duluth, Minn., said. “Oftentimes, we look at optimism as a source of weakness, but I actually see it completely differently. I think optimism is the fuel for a willingness to take on the big problems and to feel like we have a chance to actually solve those problems.”

“Upbeat” is one of the words author Paul Taylor used to describe millennials in a column written last year titled “It’s a Millennial World Now.”

Some of the other descriptions were “liberal lions,” “unaffiliated,” “anti-hierarchical” and “distrustful.”

And ready or not, we’re coming soon to a city hall near you.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.