Sun, Nov 13, 2005 - Page 7 News List

US' youngest mayor is a schoolboy

THE GUARDIAN , WASHINGTON

Michael Sessions, 18, a senior at Hillsdale High School and the mayor-elect of the city of Hillsdale, Michigan, stands in a school hallway on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

The new mayor of Hillsdale, Michigan, is a man of the people, ready to listen to their every concern, but only until 6pm. Then he has to do his homework.

Sessions, who is too young to drink in his own town, won by just two votes after a recount. By 670 votes to 668, he beat the sitting mayor, who is 51 and had all the advantages of incumbency. And he won despite the fact that his name was not even on the ballot.

He was too young to stand by the spring deadline for registration, so after he turned 18 he entered as a write-in candidate -- meaning voters had to remember his name and add it to the ballot by hand in order to support him. The circumstances make his triumph all the more likely to be a model for future insurgent candidates.

He started by winning the support of a powerful interest group, the Hillsdale firefighters' union, who had fallen out with the town council. The union has a membership of three, but in post-Sept. 11 US it wields symbolic clout. Before endorsing Sessions, its president, Kevin Pauken, called his teachers to check on his credentials.

"The guys were a little leery at first because of his age, but he really impressed us with his openness and his energy," Pauken told the Detroit News.

To help get his name known, Sessions raised US$700 selling toffee apples over the summer and spent it on posters and placards which were sprinkled around Hillsdale's lawns by election day. His month-long campaign involved going door to door, explaining his vision of the town's future in the kitchens of his initially sceptical neighbors.

"They'd look at me, and say `How old are you again? How much experience do you have?' And I say `I'm still in high school,'" he recalled.

He promised Hillsdale's voters he would revitalize the local economy and made his youthful energy his selling point.

"I was optimistic the whole time," he explained. At one point, five days before election day, that enthusiasm threatened to get the better of him. He spent so long out on the streets knocking on the doors, ignoring his mother's pleas for him to wear a coat, that he ended up in a hospital emergency room with bronchitis.

But by then his momentum had become unstoppable.

Sessions insists that his high school obligations will not get in the way of his mayoral duties, saying the US$3,000-a-year job is part-time.

"From 7:50am to 2:30pm, I'll be a student. From 3 to 6, I'll be the mayor of Hillsdale, working on mayor stuff," he said.

To help him do the "mayor stuff," he is assembling a transition team of trusted advisors, who will help him deal with the town council and the town manager, who run the town between them.

The ousted mayor, Douglas Ingles, conceded defeat graciously and prepared to return to running his business, a roller-skating rink.

"This is a very exciting time for our community. We need to find ways to generate enthusiasm, and I am 100 percent supportive of any change that makes that happen," he said.

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