I remember volunteering with the teens at The Braddock Youth Project. I wasn’t supposed to be there but a few days before I was to report to my Keys Service Corps AmeriCorps assignment at Braddock Borough Building I was asked to change course. “We need more people at BYP to mentor the youth.” In high school, I taught a Photoshop course and in college, I was an orientation leader, but beyond that, “I’ve never taught before.” I remember being so nervous that first day that I questioned what could I teach these teens. That feeling in the pit of my stomach meant I had to do it! Every time I’ve followed the butterflies in my stomach I’ve learned something.
That summer was no different. I taught the teens things about job readiness and nutrition and they taught me that the future would be okay. Teens are young adults and deserve to be treated as so as that’s the best time to have the freedom to make mistakes. After a life layover in New York and Dallas, I came back to Braddock. My family is here after all. I reset and realized I wanted to make my community better than I found it but I had no idea how. It was kind of like fate that I stumbled upon the former council president’s Facebook post looking for volunteers. I wanted to help but I didn’t know what I wanted to help with so I tried at everything. On top of my full-time job, I became a part-time volunteer. I co-chaired community day writing press releases and organizing vendors. I joined the Home Rule Committee not even knowing what it was, and I attended every council meeting I could physically attend. I was always present because I wanted to learn.
“We’re looking to appoint a mayor,” I remember not wanting to apply because I didn’t feel like I was qualified. That’s what did qualify me though. The fact that I cared about people more than policies and procedures made me qualified. The fact that I was volunteering my time not for credit or for titles, but because I wanted to made me qualified.
I spent about $20 total on my whole campaign and I think it was on my own tee-shirt. I asked friends and family to vote for me and promised to be transparent and not perfect. I promised to keep showing up and I’ve done that. I’m excited to show other people how to show up.
Next month is around the time people start getting things together to hit the pavement running and right now is an interesting time to start thinking about it. Braddock will have several council seats up including a seventh at large seat (meaning this person doesn’t have to live in a certain ward to run). There’s also a municipal mayor seat up for election.
Wouldn’t it be cool to have someone younger than me on council? Neither council nor mayor has term limits here in Braddock and I think that’s what deters people from running. Despite the misconception, you don’t have to own property but you do have to live in the Borough to run. Here are a few questions I get asked regularly:
How much does it cost to run for municipal elections?
Filing fees vary for what the person is running for the smaller the role, the cheaper the fee. My entire campaign was less than $25 including getting my petition notarized. How much does it pay? It’s definitely a passion project. Unless you’re running for something higher than municipal government, don’t expect to get rich. Braddock Council members and the mayor make about $100 a month.
What does the mayor do?
Braddock is a weak mayor system, meaning council makes the majority of all decisions, the mayor cannot create policies but can make suggestions. The mayor is the liason between the community, residents, and the public. The mayor can break a tie between council.
Can’t I just run on a write-in campaign?
Yes, but why? Unless the seat or position is completely vacant, it would be awesome to get on the ballot. Braddock’s newest council member ran on an impeccable write-in campaign and is a wonderful addition to council as, before her, it was the same people over and over again.
What if I know nothing about government?
The less you know the better. Your local municipal government kind of needs you. I’ve learned the more people in the room that care and want to help, the better.
What if I just want to get involved in the community?
That is also awesome! There are committees that you can get involved with like the parks committee, events, zoning, or even finance. It all varies by municipality but for the most part, there are committees. If that’s too much of a commitment, consider attending your local council meeting. Most of them are virtual right now so it’s convenient to be nosy and see what the people you elected to speak on your behalf are up to.
I never thought I would go from watching Parks and Recreation all the time to slightly living in an episode every day. Local government has its highs and lows but there’s a support system out there for people who run the first time. There are courses for local officials. Oddly enough I was getting ready for my emergency disaster course before Covid. The Millennial Mayor Club embraced me immediately and now I have new forever friends. It’s all a learning experience and it’s as rewarding as what you want it to be because you decide how much time you’re putting into it.