Michael Taylor ’05, former Ithaca alderperson and Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward) were honored earlier this month as members of the steering committee of The Young Elected Officials Network, a burgeoning progressive political organization. The Inaugural Convening of the YEO Network, entitled “A New Generation of Leaders on the Front Lines of Change,” was held in Washington, D.C., from Jan. 13-15.
“This is a good cause – it’s something desperately needed in this country given the current state of political affairs,” Townsend said. “One-third of the working poor and a majority of those without health insurance are young people.”
Andrew Gillum, Vice-Mayor of Tallahassee, Fl., who is under 35 and therefore a young elected official himself, initiated research for the YEO Network in September 2005. In a telephone interview, Gillum said that while in office he was hard pressed to find another progressive young official. He elaborated on the differences between younger and older elected officials, saying that the YEO Network isn’t about ageism, but that the two groups “aren’t cut from the same cloth.” He added that older elected officials believe they are public servants, while YEOs do not feel the same way.
“This is a brand new thing. The goal is to collectively bring young people together,” said Taylor, whose term on the Ithaca Common Council ended Dec. 31.
The YEO Network has compiled a database of 177 YEOs. 64 of these officials were invited to attend the conference. But according to a report by the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, there are many more progressive YEOs in the country. 63 percent of U.S. presidents and half of today’s governors, congressmen and senators were under 35 when they first became involved in politics, making them YEOs.
“[These numbers] suggest an informal pipeline of leadership,” Gillum said.
The conference schedule included issues workshop sessions on healthcare, public education and taxes and budgets, as well as skills workshops on maintaining networks, media relations and campaign fundraising.
Since many elected officials are over 35, the YEO Network and its complementary organization, Young People for the American Way, act as support and stability for YEOs, so they do not feel alone throughout their terms in office.
The members of the steering committee addressed the challenge of writing a mission statement, questioning if the YEO Network is a good thing and what the network’s vision and long-term focus should be, Townsend said.
Speakers at the conference included Jason West, the maverick young mayor of New Paltz, NY, a town not unlike Ithaca, given its young population and proximity to a large university, who made national headlines for marrying gay couples. Townsend sees a parallel between Ithaca and New Paltz and sees potential for a young mayor in Ithaca.
The conference wasn’t strictly business. The steering committee members had the opportunity to share their experiences in politics at breakfasts and break sessions. Gillum said interaction among YEOs was a prime goal at the conference. The Network teaches YEOs not only about the public official side, but also about how to balance life and work.
Townsend did not know what to expect before arriving in Washington, but found his fellow young elected officials “passionate about the issues of everyday who would do what it takes to represent young people.”
“The conference has made me more confident as an elected official, Townsend said. “It has shown me what I’m doing has really mattered.”
Archived article by Jessica DiNapoli
Sun Staff Writer