More than 20 students and faculty gathered at the Ford School of Public Policy on Thursday, for a panel featuring young elected officials from around Michigan shared their experiences in local office and the struggles they have faced while running.
Moderator Toby Hutchins, the vice president of the Fennville Board of Education, explained the significance of holding the panel, recognizing the boost in involvement in politics among young people from both political parties following the most recent presidential election. Hutchins used this topic to transition into asking each panelist why they chose to run for office.
Ypsilanti Pro-Tem Mayor Nicole Brown discussed her path of running for local office as someone who serves as mayor while the mayor is absent, for professional business or leaving office, alongside her job as a social worker.
“I just really felt connected to the area,” she said. “I have a voice, I have something to say, and I wanted to be a representative of those young people that I interacted with on campus and within the community.”
The panelists were asked to discuss the difficulties they have faced because of their ages and limited experience. Many shared the idea that, in their campaigning, they highlighted their policy visions over their experience, though it was difficult with social media attacks.
State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D–Dearborn) said, while campaigning, he emphasized his dedication to the community over all else.
“I’m a product of Dearborn; I was born and raised in the city,” he said. “No other candidate was born and raised in the city. Don’t you want to invest in somebody that is from this community and for this community? Aren’t you proud that I was in Dearborn public schools? Here I am excelling, and I can be that voice.”
Amanda VanEssen Wirth, the chair of the Ottawa County Republican Party, discussed how she handles the criticisms she faces based on her youth.
“When there are those comments and there is that criticism, it is really important to have a good attitude about it,” Wirth said.
Though each panelist had difficulties, hard work and door-to-door rallying ultimately weighed more heavily with voters.
State Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D–Brownstown Township) emphasized the importance of fostering confidence within the younger, politically active crowd. He reflected on his transition from a teacher in Detroit to a state representative, claiming he wanted to be instrumental in creating positive change within Michigan, specifically focusing on education.
“Especially in this past election, experience is an important contrast point to talk about,” he said. “If you don’t lay out a vision of what you want to do in office, and you don’t tell your story and have your experiences be part of the narrative in politics, voters are not going to buy it.”
When asked how they maneuvered through working with more experienced individuals, all the panelists believed collaboration and open-mindedness were key. Hammoud said ultimately, there is always the mutual goal of helping the constituents.
VanEssen Wirth said maintaining a positive outlook was important.
“Everyone you meet you can learn something from,” she said. “As long as you’re respectful and open-minded — not just people that are a different age from you but people that are different in all demographics — and you’re willing and able to learn from them.”
State Rep. Jewell Jones (D–Inkster) said he saw the greatest impact in his job when acting as a resource for his constituents.
“What I’m proud of is really empowering the citizens, using myself as a medium to connect people to whatever they need,” he said. “So even if I leave office, they still have stability.”
Camilleri agreed with this sentiment, saying even when there are not definitive legislative accomplishments, positive personal interactions are what make the job fulfilling.
“It’s the little victories that can mean a whole lot to people, and it’s why I got into doing this job,” Camilleri said.
Public Policy graduate student Anthony Castaneda shared his interest in the panel topic in the context of the current political atmosphere.
“I think the political landscape is changing, and it’s been interesting to hear the perspective of young politicians being elected, which from the news that I’ve been reading, has become more of a theme across the U.S,” he said.