TAKOMA PARK, MD – Newly energized by the national political environment, a record number of candidates have registered to run for office in next year’s local elections. Seeking to stand out in a crowded field, candidates are turning their attention to one of the city’s most untapped electoral resources: high school juniors and seniors.
In 2013, Takoma Park made headlines when reducing the voting age for local elections to 16. Lacking any established voting history, these first time voters are seen as largely up for grabs, and candidates are wasting no time making themselves as attractive as possible to Generation Z.
New teenager-friendly policy proposals are being rolled out on a daily basis, including unrestricted vaping on all city property, replacing the recreation department’s annual basketball tournament with a Fortnite competition, and live-streaming city council meetings on Twitch.
Beyond policy proposals, a number of candidates are focusing on youth-friendly campaigning strategies. Ward 1 council candidate Peter Franks, for example, posted TikTok videos of himself flossing, while singing along to music stars such as Selena Gomez and Lil Nas X.
“I rewrote the lyrics to Old Town Road to focus on traffic problems in Old Town Takoma,” said Franks. “I think my version slaps!….did I use that term correctly?”
Ward 4 candidate Eileen Teller is also making a major push into social media, courting the attention of YouTube and Instagram influencers to bring extra cachet to her candidacy. Campaign finance forms indicate that Teller paid nearly $3,000 to a YouTube makeup tutorial channel to push a new eyeliner technique called The Smoky Eileen for City Council.
“We got some real traction from the YouTube strategy,” Teller said. “Now we’re focused on getting Kendall Jenner to like one of our Instagram stories. Fingers crossed!”
Recognizing the increased interest in young voters, last week the city sponsored a Youth Voter Forum where residents age 16-18 were allowed to ask questions of specific candidates in a town hall setting. Every currently declared candidate participated in the forum, though with varying levels of success.
Mayoral candidate Adrienne Simons earned plaudits from the audience for her proposal to classify lawn mowing and snow shoveling as illegal child labor, but Ward 6 council candidate Chad Ponder sharply divided the crowd after taking sides in the ongoing feud between Cardi B and Nicki Minaj (for the record, he chose Minaj).
“I hired a youth outreach coordinator specifically to help me prepare for this event,” Ponder said. “Unfortunately, she was grounded this week for getting a speeding ticket, so I had to wing it and paid the price.”
Simons also emphasized the importance of a competent youth voter liaison team. “I very nearly described my tax proposals as being ‘on fleek.’ Thank goodness Brayden, Madisyn and Kayleigh were around to set me straight.”
Kiana Reynolds, president of the Young Voters Club at Montgomery Blair High School, appreciates the efforts candidates are making to speak to Takoma Park’s teenagers, but wishes those conversations had more substance.
“We’re young, but we’re not idiots,” she said. “We understand and are very interested in important issues like environmental protections and expanding access to affordable housing. We’re really not that different from older voters.”
Asked to elaborate further on her thoughts via an extended phone interview, Reynolds declined stating “no one makes phone calls anymore.”