College Park could lower age limit for city candidates
Proposal would allow 18-year-olds to serve on council and as mayor
College Park officials are considering a proposal to lower the city's minimum age to run for office, but council members differ on whether the change would be good for the city.
The City Council introduced a proposed charter amendment Tuesday night that, if approved, would lower the minimum age for the mayor and council members to 18. Currently, council members must be 21 by the time they take office the mayor has to be 25 and all candidates must have lived in the city for at least one year prior to Election Day.
While some council members said it is only fair to allow younger voting-aged residents a chance to serve their city, others said a change could open the door for uninformed or inexperienced candidates.
"The vast majority of 18-year-olds in the city have no relation to the city, the county or even the state," said Councilman Robert Catlin (Dist. 2). "They're really going to be oblivious to probably 90 percent of what's said at a council meeting."
The city will hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment at 7 p.m. Oct. 26, and the eight-member council could vote on the issue as soon as that night.
The proposed change was introduced by Councilman Marcus Afzali (Dist. 4), a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, who took office last December and is likely the council's youngest member in at least 20 years, Catlin said. Several college-aged candidates have run unsuccessfully in the past, the most recent of which was Nick Aragon, a then-24-year-old UM student who lost a District 4 special election in 2007.
"I think it's a basic issue of fairness in terms of treating all adults equally," Afzali said. "That's the democratic process. People run and you trust the electorate to make the right decision."
Virtually all municipalities require council and mayoral candidates to be residents, registered voters and U.S. citizens, but the similarities often end there. University Park requires candidates to be at least 25 years old with two years of residency in the town, whereas Greenbelt and Hyattsville allow candidates as young as 18, and neither places a limit on how long they have to have lived in the city.
Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis said she supports her city's age limit but does not recall any college-aged residents running for office since she moved to Greenbelt in 1975. She said younger residents had previously served on the council, but most residents in their 20s are now too busy with school, careers or new families to take posts in city government.
"I think you have to have the time and the experience, and the feeling that you know enough about how the system works," Davis said.
Catlin said most of the College Park's unsuccessful college-aged candidates have campaigned heavily for student votes, but did little to learn city issues or communicate with long-term residents.
Councilwoman Christine Nagle (Dist. 1) said she is still undecided on the issue, but has heard exclusively negative feedback from constituents who worry younger candidates would not be mature enough to serve.
"Maturity tends to go with age not always, but there's a sense of our society thinking that," Nagle said. "I think we need to get some public input on it."
Becca Lurie, the council's student liaison and a 21-year-old senior at UM, said she favors the amendment. She said that lowering the age limit won't bring a sudden rush of student candidates, but it could pave the way for passionate, interested candidates
"You may get one or two [candidates per two-year election cycle], and that would be great if they could invest the time to learn the city issues," Lurie said. "If someone knows the issues and has the community connections ... I don't see why we should be stopping them."