Young, but able to lead -- Gazette.Net


Reduced candidacy age requirement in College Park is a positive step forward

Admittedly, the thought of having 18-year-olds run a city can be a bit scary. For some older residents, negative stereotypes of out-of-control, irresponsible teens immediately come to mind, with images of City Hall turning into a version of “Animal House,” a 1978 comedy about fraternity shenanigans.

So it’s no surprise that College Park had its fair share of dissenters when the council approved a plan lowering the age requirement for elected city seats. Now, city residents only need to be 18 to run for mayor or City Council, down from 25 and 21 years old, respectively.

The lower age requirement is not unique to College Park. Even the Prince George’s County school board allows 18-year-olds to hold office. And for those who think teens will be too out of touch with life’s challenges to make responsible decisions, they only need to look to Edward Burroughs III, a respected member of the school board who was elected in 2010 at the age of 18.

In College Park, the decision takes on even greater meaning. The city has long struggled to balance its needs with those of University of Maryland students, who often live in off-campus housing and share city services with longtime residents. The city/university relationship has been contentious at times, with students feeling shut out of the decision-making process.

The reduced age requirement is a big step forward in their integration. It welcomes students into the legislative process, literally offering a seat at the table to those who can garner enough support for their ideas.

And, in the end, that’s what it comes down to: whether the candidate is qualified to do the job and has the votes to get him or her into office.

Hopefully, city residents will be engaged enough to recognize when a candidate — young or old — is a poor choice for office. After all, as many voters will learn this year, there are many candidates who are much older than 18 who would be disastrous leaders if elected.

Understandably, the lowered age requirement raises concerns. The thought of teens who may not have much life experience making decisions that could impact the city’s economy, safety and property values will be a source of apprehension for many.

But in College Park, where the change will encourage young leaders to work side-by-side with long-term officials, the lowered age requirement has its benefits.