Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 will begin overseeing two groups of politically active young people after being named director of youth leadership programs on Friday by a leading progressive nonprofit that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing Republican candidates in 2016.
Television producer Norman Lear founded the group, People for the American Way, in 1981 as a way to counter the influence of conservative televangelists. The Washington D.C.-based organization has evolved in the 36 years since then to form a network of elected officials 35 and under and encourage young advocates to become influential organizers.
Myrick, 29, will be leading the Young Elected Officials Network, as well as Young People For, which offers fellowships to 150 young advocates who promote progressive values on college campuses or local communities.
Myrick said he turned down many tempting offers after Election Day — including a potential run for Congress — because he did not want to leave his post as mayor of Ithaca.
“So when People For the American Way said here’s an opportunity to marry your twin passions — you can stay as mayor and continue your commitments to the city and encourage young people to be involved in government — it just made perfect sense,” Myrick told The Sun.
“It was an easy decision,” he added. “And I can’t stress enough how important it was that I can still do this and stay as mayor.”
Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, Fla., is passing the torch to Myrick after founding the YEO Network in 2005, and announced the transition in a statement on Friday.
“I look forward to pursuing new opportunities for progressive leadership in Florida, and I am so glad that Svante, who brings such a long history of involvement in the YEO Network, will be taking the reins of Youth Leadership Programs at PFAW Foundation,” Gillum said.
Myrick, who has attended the YEO Network conference for the last nine years, said the other young elected officials formed a powerful support group that encouraged him to stay in elected office “at moments when I wanted to get out.”
The network is composed of “more than 1,000 elected officials across the country in offices ranging from local school boards to the United States Congress,” according to the YEO website.
In addition to outlining programming and events for the YEO Network, Myrick will also oversee a series of trainings around the country as part of the Young People For, or YP4, initiative.
Myrick said that while he’ll help organize and receive updates from most YP4 trainings remotely, he hopes to travel to a couple of trainings each year. Most of the travel Myrick does for the nonprofit will be for fundraising, he said.
The new role, Myrick said, is more important than ever with President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration just seven days away. People For the American Way spent $292,000 to oppose Trump’s candidacy, according to OpenSecrets.
“[Trump is] going to be the president but that doesn’t mean we stand down and stop pushing for what we believe in,” he said. “Now it’s more important than ever — for local officials especially — to stand up.”
Myrick noted that he can only do so much as leader of the groups. The most important thing, he said, is to get hundreds of bright minds to convene in the same building and share ideas.
“The power of any one person is pretty limited,” he said. “I don’t think I can get all of the young elected officials fired up, but if I get them in the same room, they will inspire each other, inform each other, and give each other ideas to bring back to their constituencies.”