Erica Spell Wolf is a councilmember for Ward 5 in Hyattsville, Maryland
“I always knew I would run for elected office. I just didn’t know it would be this soon.”
I was first elected to the Hyattsville City Council in 2017. And while I was involved in my community, I recalled while canvassing during my campaign residents would often ask “are you old enough to run?” I knew that signaled the need for a mind shift in how young people in elected office were seen. On my first day as an elected official, “It felt like I had walked into a different world and at times, I felt like I did not belong.”
It’s one of the impetus that inspired me to create a space for local elected officials under 40 to meet each other, support one another, and share perspectives within the Maryland Municipal League. I knew our ideas were important and valuable. I am active in the Young Elected Officials Network and wanted to bring a similar community to MML.
This past summer, MML hosted its first convening of young elected officials. The event drew almost 30 individuals from across the state to discuss leadership strategies, generational differences in leadership styles, and common challenges for young municipal leaders. Here are four reasons why other state leagues should consider building a support network for their young local elected officials.
1. Young Elected Officials Need a Space
Local government has special nuances that might be familiar with a generation that grew up with technology and easy access. Creating a network where they can share with peers strengthens their contributions to municipal government. The Young Elected Officials Network provides support on a national level, but “sometimes you simply need support or need to combine efforts on a state level.” That’s what a Young Municipal Leaders network can provide within the National League of Cities and state municipal leagues.
2. Millennials Have a Different Perspective
As the largest generation in the country, millennials are coming of age to political power when dynamics are shifting. This generation is comfortable with crowdfunding platforms and grew up with many of the major technology platforms. Additionally, their experience with government, from public schools, to student debt has given them a personal perspective about the role of government. They are also optimistic about the power of citizen engagement and government.
3. Supports Succession Planning
The 78-million-strong baby boom generation, which helped grow the local government management profession in the expanding U.S. suburbs during the 1960s and 1970s, will be retiring at an alarming rate. The average age of most local elected officials is 50. As the Baby Boomers retire, embracing a younger leadership offers an opportunity to show how your city is preparing for its future. According to ICMA, the International City/County Management Association: in 1971, 71 percent of professional city, town, and county managers were age 40 or younger; 26 percent were under age 30. In 2006, only about 13 percent of local government Chief Administrative Officers were under age 40, and only one percent were age 30 or younger! Young municipal leaders are ready and interested in serving their communities in different ways.
4. Elevates Diverse Leadership
Millennials represent the most diverse generation in U.S. history, and they are interested in local government. With fresh eyes and new ideas, millennials are ushering in leaders of historically underrepresented ethnicities, age, and race. They provide diverse perspectives on policies, regulations, and community engagement.
Time magazine reported that millennials are flocking to local government and stepping up to run for city, county and mayoral positions. They see this level of government as the most accountable and least partisan. If your municipality is looking to support their growth and development, consider starting a young municipal network in your state, where they can share and interact with peers.
About the author: Erica Spell Wolf is a councilmember for Ward 5 in Hyattsville, Maryland. She was first elected in 2017. She is involved in the Maryland Municipal League and the National League of Cities.