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Teens in office.

You have to be at least 35 to run for president, but younger people can get involved in local politics. Meet four teens who did.

Brandon Paulin



Last spring, at just 19, Brandon Paulin was elected mayor of Indian Head, Maryland, a town of 4,000--making him the youngest person ever to hold that office in Maryland's history.

Paulin first got involved in local government at age 11. "Back then, Indian Head had no signs at crosswalks telling drivers to stop for pedestrians," he recalls. "So I started going to town meetings and addressing the council members--and within a month, we had new signs."

He credits his teachers with encouraging his early interest in politics. "I had great mentors, starting with my first-grade teacher, who emphasized the importance of community," says Paulin, who's also a political science major at the College of Southern Maryland.

When Paulin ran for office last year, he was up against an incumbent who had served as mayor on and off since before Paulin was born, as well as another former mayor. But Paulin believes his age helped him.

"I think people were excited to see a young person taking a step up," he says. On Election Day, Paulin won more than twice as many votes as the incumbent.

Now he earns an annual mayoral salary of $6,000 and juggles classes with council meetings. His Twitter feed includes legislative updates as well as posts about his fantasy football team. He's gotten used to some friendly teasing. (A common wise-crack: "We'd better wrap up the meeting. It's the mayor's bedtime.")

Paulin has important goals for his four-year term, including attracting new businesses to the area. Under his leadership, the town has already restored a park and converted what were once railroad tracks into a 13-mile-long hiking and biking trail.

Paulin's advice to people who covet the mayor's office, or those just eager to be more active in their communities: It's never too early to engage. "If you want to build a future that you want to live in," he says, "you have to start now."

Susan Wu



Susan Wu was a high school junior when she learned last year that New York State had passed a bill allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to join their local community boards.

Intrigued, Wu, who lives in New York City, did some online research and learned that board members act as advocates for their neighborhoods. They advise on issues ranging from how land should be used to how the city's funds should be allocated.

"I realized that this is a way for people who are passionate about their community to come together--and I wanted to be a part of it," says Wu, now 18 and a senior. She applied for a spot and was selected to serve a one-year unpaid term.

The issue she cares about most? Making sure her neighborhood--whose population has tripled since 2000, to an estimated 65,000 residents--doesn't lose its unique character.

The area is rapidly gentrifying, meaning that it's seeing a lot of rebuilding and rising property prices as more, and wealthier, people move there. While such growth can be good, it can have a downside: Longtime residents and businesses may have a hard time affording higher rents.

Though she doesn't plan on a political career (more likely finance or engineering), Wu says the skills she's learning on the board--teamwork, leadership, communication--are ones she'll use in any field. The experience has already taught her a valuable lesson: "Whatever you have an interest in, jump for the opportunity to learn more about it."

Ran, Lost--and Made a Difference

A tragedy inspired Caleb Owens to run for mayor of Elkhart, Indiana, before he even graduated from high school: His friend was killed in a drive-by shooting in 2013.

So last spring, at age 17, Owens ran for mayor. "Critics said I was too young to have any real experience," he recalls. "But in order to become something great, you have to start somewhere."

Owens won 38 percent of the primary vote--not enough to qualify for the general election. But he wasn't discouraged: "I was able to inspire many young people to register to vote and to get excited about politics."

Owens is now in Texas, training to be an Army medic, but says one day he hopes to run for office again. "People always think that kids are home on their PlayStation," he says. "But we can be, and need to be, noticed for doing good things."

Katie Cox



As a high school sophomore, Katie Cox couldn't find an elective that interested her, so a guidance counselor suggested an internship at the local district court.

Cox decided to try it and was inspired by how her colleagues made a difference in people's lives. "I worked for the secretary of one of the judges, and she was so selfless," recalls Cox. "She showed me that if you hear people out and then you follow through with helping them, it can be a really wonderful thing."

Cox began looking for her own way to help people in her community. When she learned last spring that a member of the city council in her hometown of Morenci, Michigan, had resigned before her term was up, Cox, then 19 and a college sophomore, applied for the spot. She was appointed--and then won a full four-year term in an election last November.

As one of six councilmembers for the city of 2,200, Cox attends twice-monthly meetings and votes on critical town issues. Her proudest moment so far? Voting "yes" on a law that expanded the city's police coverage to 24 hours a day. "I think it's important that we have a local police force that can be dispatched anytime it's needed," she explains.

Looking ahead, Cox, a social work major at Eastern Michigan University, is considering law school, but she plans to stay politically active.

"We're the next generation," she says, "and we're the ones who need to take responsibility for what will happen to our future."

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Title Annotation:NATIONAL; Brandon Paulin, Susan Wu and Katie Cox
Author:Press, Jessica
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 16, 2016
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