Eric Plourde describes himself as an “average college student” who “just happens to have an interest in politics.”
Most LSA sophomores with an interest in politics aren’t running for mayor of Ann Arbor. Plourde is.
The 19-year-old Plourde recently announced his plans to run against the incumbent, Mayor John Hieftje, as the Libertarian Party candidate. He declared his intention in front of his pre-law fraternity, Kappa Alpha Pi, last week.
As a college student, Plourde knows it will be a difficult campaign – and one he’s not likely to win.
“There are a lot of barriers in the way,” he said. “Being in a minor party doesn’t help. Being young doesn’t help.”
Though Plourde admitted that his chances of winning are slim, he said he wholeheartedly believes that he could do the job. He said he wouldn’t be running if he didn’t think he could handle running a city of 115,000 residents.
“I think there’s a perception that somebody as young as me wouldn’t be up to the job,” Plourde said. “That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe I’m qualified to serve, or that if I won the election I wouldn’t be able to handle the job.”
Plourde said he plans to graduate a year early regardless of the contest’s outcome. If he does win the race, Plourde’s last term at the University would coincide with the beginning of his mayoral term. He said he might take a lighter courseload during the start of his term if he wins.
“It would only be a few months where I’d be taking classes and fulfilling my duties as mayor,” Plourde said.
While he has not yet requested a nominating petition from Ann Arbor City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry, Plourde has until May 13 to file a petition with a minimum of 250 signatures.
Beaudry said no candidates have completed petitions yet, but that two prospective candidates – four-term incumbent mayor John Hieftje and Tom Wall – have begun the process. Both Hieftje and Wall are Democrats.
After he started the College Libertarians group on campus, Plourde sought the help of the Washtenaw County branch of the Libertarian Party to plan events on campus. At a meeting last year, he was caught off-guard when he was approached by the chair of the county’s party chapter, Tom Bagwell, and asked to run on the Libertarian ticket.
“I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t,” Plourde said. “He was like, ‘We’re going to start looking at candidates for the next election. It’d be kinda cool if you ran for mayor.’ “
Plourde said he decided that running for mayor would be a good opportunity to “bring to light the issues that I’m interested in.”
Plourde said he considered himself a “hardcore Democrat” as a high school student, but recently became more fiscally conservative. He said he hopes to draw more attention to the Libertarian idea of limited government, citing the “government’s overarching role in people’s lives” as his inspiration for running.
Plourde will likely be campaigning against Hieftje, who was skeptical of Plourde’s ability to gain support of community members. Hieftje said Plourde should do more work for the city before running for its highest office.
“I would recommend for students who want to become involved in local politics to try to get some experience, and there’s ways to do that,” Hieftje said, suggesting that students work on projects with the city’s planning commission.
Hieftje lauded the student’s ambition, though.
“I look forward to meeting him on the campaign trail this fall,” he said.
Plourde said he decided to run for mayor because it provided the best opportunity to showcase his Libertarian platform.
“The position of mayor is a more high-profile position, so I think I’ll reach a broader audience,” he said.