Washington: As the US closely watched who would win Georgia’s Senate runoff Tuesday, residents 560km west in Arkansas chose an 18-year-old to become their mayor.
Jaylen Smith is set now to lead the city of Earle and its roughly 1,800 residents. His parents, whom Smith lives with, are ecstatic.
“My mom can’t stop crying,” he told The Washington Post on Wednesday.
Smith is far from the first 18-year-old mayor. Michael Sessions was elected in 2005 at age 18 to lead the Michigan town of Hillsdale.
Younger people are taking office at all levels of government throughout the country. Florida Democrat Maxwell Frost last month became the first Generation Z politician elected to serve in Congress, winning a House seat.
“You have to start somewhere - you really do,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to be 30 or 40 and become a mayor when I could be one right now.”
Smith won 235 votes, according to the Crittenden County clerk’s office. His opponent was Nemi Matthews Sr., the city’s longtime streets superintendent, who garnered 183 votes. Matthews congratulated Smith on Facebook.
Smith said the city’s young people carried him to victory.
“They wanted to see change,” he said. “I basically won off of them.”
Smith said he won voters over on merit and as a proven leader: He spent three years as president of Earle High School’s student government, during which he negotiated a deal with a new cafeteria vendor.
“I worked time after time to get them what they wanted,” he said.
People around town often told Smith he was too young, he said. His response? “I use doubters to motivate me to move forward.”
Smith plans to juggle being mayor and attending Arkansas State University Mid-South. He hopes to one day become a prosecutor.
Smith described Earle as a town driven by high school sports and growing soybeans and cotton. He ran on a platform of bringing a grocery store to town, beautifying the city and improving transportation and public safety.
Young people looking to start their political careers usually flock to big cities, but that’s not for Smith. He said he wants to help his hometown and doesn’t need to make the half-hour drive to cross the Mississippi River into Memphis to start his career of public service.
“Why should I have to be great somewhere else when I could be great in Earle, Arkansas?” he said.