An effort to lower the minimum age to run for the College Park City Council from 21 to 18 almost backfired last night, as the council nearly passed an alternative measure that would raise that age to 25.
District 4 Councilman Marcus Afzali had proposed letting any registered voter who has lived in College Park for at least a year run for a council seat, which would make it easier for more undergraduates to run for a two-year term.
But when about a dozen city residents turned out in overwhelming opposition to Afzali’s proposed amendment to the city charter at last night’s public hearing, the council voted it down 6-2.
Before that vote, Mayor Andy Fellows broke a 4-4 tie to reject District 2 Councilman Bob Catlin’s proposal that no resident younger than 25 be allowed to run for elected office in the city.
Catlin’s measure drew applause from the assembled audience when he introduced it. He said the council erred when it even reduced the age from 25 in the past, and lowering it further would exacerbate the problem of inexperience.
“It’s kinda like saying the drinking age at 18 failed but that we should reduce it to 15,” Catlin said.
Even before the hearing began, Afzali’s optimism about his idea had faded — too many of his colleagues told him privately they opposed it.
“Unfortunately, this motion is dead,” he said.
Nonetheless, Afzali — who was elected as a 24-year-old graduate student with Catlin’s support — spoke out in support of the amendment when it came to a vote.
“The main reason why I brought this forward is to make our city more equitable. Giving people the right to vote for or against who they want to,” he said.
College Park residents who spoke at the hearing said the issue was maturity, not equity.
“The only thing most 18-year-olds are thinking about is when and where the next party is,” said Leslie Booth, who supported raising the age to run for council to 25.
Another resident, Cindy Lollar, said 18-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to represent the city because they may not be concerned about the same issues as long-term residents, and Donna Weene added that she saw on Dr. Phil that brains don’t mature until age 25.
David Milligan — a former District 1 councilman — was the only non-student who spoke to support the age change to 18, saying other cities such as Los Angeles have similar requirements and if 18-year-olds can get married and raise children, they should be able to hold public office.
“The question is should they have the right, and I think they should,” he said.
District 1 Councilman Pat Wojahn, the only council member to support Afzali, echoed that sentiment.
“I have a real problem where any government entity should judge without knowing the characteristic of an individual if they are able to run in a city office,” Wojahn said. “I think there are a lot of 18-year-olds who are immature, but I cannot say there would never be a case where an 18-year-old would be qualified. I believe that the residents of College Park have the ability to distinguish between someone who is qualified to fill this office and when they are not qualified to fill this office.”
Becca Lurie, the Student Government Association’s student liaison to the council, also testified in support of lowering the age. Lurie, now 21, has been involved with the city council since she was 19, but received jeers from the crowd after announcing her position.
“If someone can convince our residents that they are qualified, what does it matter if they’re 18 or 81? Why are we imposing this artificial barrier to service? They bring fresh eyes and ideas,” Lurie said to the council.
District 1 Councilwoman Christine Nagle said students haven’t been involved enough in the city before to deserve a lower voting age.
“If they really want to get this passed, they will vote us out and get involved in the process,” she said.
Catlin, Nagle, District 3 Councilman Mark Cook and District 4 Councilwoman Denise Mitchell voted in favor of raising the minimum age to 25; Afzali, Wojahn, District 2 Councilman Jack Perry and District 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich opposed.
mccarty at umdbk dot com