Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fourth-grader earns title with big ideas and promises

Youth named ‘junior mayor’ of Gaithersburg

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Charles E. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Andy Sanchez, 10, a fourth-grader at Gaithersburg Elementary School, won an essay contest to become the city’s first junior mayor.
He’s got a new black suit, new black shoes and a new title. Andy Sanchez, a fourth-grader at Gaithersburg Elementary School who did not speak English when he came to the United States seven years ago, is the city’s new ‘‘junior mayor.”

‘‘He’s got a lot of poise, he’s very well-spoken, he’s very pleasant,” said Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney A. Katz. ‘‘I think he’s as excited to be our mayor as we are to have him.”

Andy, a straight-A student, earned his title in a statewide essay contest titled ‘‘If I were mayor...” sponsored by the Maryland Municipal League. He detailed services, community activities and tourism plans he would offer if elected — from recycling, adding more trees and stopping the dumping of oil in rivers to expanding the city’s community museum.

His teacher gave students a mini civics lesson before they put to pen to paper, Andy said. It took three to four afternoons to polish his essay.

‘‘I thought about what people wanted and how I could accomplish it,” Andy said of his essay. ‘‘My parents were sort of shocked because they never thought I would win.” His parents do not speak English.

As for the inspiration for a line Andy wrote about living his life as a proud American that begins: ‘‘With every freedom goes great responsibility...” one can wonder.

Was it Abraham Lincoln? Martin Luther King Jr.? John F. Kennedy?

No, turns out it was Spider Man.

‘‘With great power comes great responsibility,” Peter Parker’s uncle said in the first edition comic book in 1962 and the more recent blockbuster film.

Andy was selected for his honorary post by a city committee who deemed him one of six finalists out of 119 Gaithersburg fourth-graders who entered. Finalist interviews at City Hall showed he was a shoo-in.

As Gaithersburg’s first junior mayor, Andy, 10, will appear in a feature on the city’s cable television station. He will participate in city events, such as the annual Jingle Jubilee Tree Lighting, Labor Day Parade and State of the City Dinner, said city spokeswoman Britta Monaco. He may introduce a third-grade choir at the city’s upcoming Memorial Day observance, should his schedule permit, she said.

‘‘I started to think about being a mayor since [receiving this honor],” Andy said. ‘‘I think it would be a little fun, a little hard,” he said. ‘‘The hard part would be getting all of the people to agree — because not all people agree. The fun part would be organizing events so people could come.”

He described qualities of a good mayor as someone who ‘‘cares for his people...listening to their requests...making it happen.”

‘‘He’s got a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm,” said Monaco, one of those who conducted the finalist interviews. ‘‘He understands the concept of a local leader, of leadership in general, and what on a local level you would need to possess to become a leader of a local community.”

Andy’s parents and sister Janely, 4, joined him last week as he received a proclamation and led the mayor and City Council in reciting the pledge of allegiance at City Hall.

The family came to Gaithersburg from Honduras seven years ago, said Andy’s mother Gelsy Cantarero. Andy’s father and brother came to America two years earlier, establishing themselves before bringing their families.

City officials did not inquire about Andy’s immigration status, Monaco said.

‘‘The future of my children is here in this country,” his mother said in Spanish.

She still gets a little emotional when talking about her young son’s achievement.

‘‘I never imagined he would win,” she said. ‘‘When he told me, I got all choked up. At first, it was like a shock, ‘Wow, my son really is succeeding,’ because it’s not something that you expect like this.”

She can’t help but brag a bit to her coworkers and her friends at church, the Centro Cristiano Internacional, which meets at Lakelands Park Middle School. Nor can she ignore a greater significance, given so much controversial and negative news involving the Latino community.

‘‘He is proof that we are overcoming,” she said.