Splaine: Portsmouth has long history of electing young leaders. Who will step up next?
Mayor Eileen Foley was a Portsmouth treasure, and a legend. If you missed knowing this incredible person, any written history of our community, or a quick "Google Search," will tell you about her.
Mary Carey Foley, her daughter, is another treasure. She chose teaching as her profession, and at Portsmouth High School she created "Portsmouth Government Day." Mary Carey retired a few years ago, but City Councilor Rich Blalock asked the council to support its return, directing City Manager Karen Conard to make it happen. This week Karen told me she's finalizing plans for April.
Student Government Day was a time when students "take over" city government, learning what city officials do, and why, then working side-by-side with them on the day chosen.
A young Rich Blalock participated long ago. "In 1999, I got to follow the city prosecutor around for a day, and in 2000 I got to shadow the assistant mayor and participate in a mock City Council meeting with my fellow students." Now Rich wants to make it reality for hundreds more students.
What is "young?" Certainly, we can differ, but fact is the far majority of those on our City Council, boards, commissions and committees are over 30. Nothing wrong with that — we need age balance — but the under-30 perspective can surely help discussions. Getting to see inside government can lead to lifelong participation. I was 20 when I ran for the New Hampshire Legislature in 1968, and 21 when running for City Council a year later. My heartbeat still pumps fast on some issues. Portsmouth's history of getting young people involved in elective office has been good but can be better with some work.
Steve Marchand was just 29 when elected to the council. In 2005, at age 31, he became one of Portsmouth's youngest mayors ever.
This week Steve said, "Success requires boundless energy, optimism, and long-term 'skin in the game' — what is my community going to feel like 30 years from now? We need young people in the process, because they uniquely possess ALL of these traits." Another who became involved in government at a young age was Rick Newman. An Atlantic Heights resident, Rick was 18 in 1977 in his first run for council, coming up short. At age 19, he ran for Legislature, and won, eventually serving four terms. In 1983, he was elected to the council at age 24.
Rick says, "I had two great high school teachers at PHS, Chuck Rodis and Brian Brennan. They made the idea of getting involved in politics fun. I believed then and certainly still today that the voice of young people needs to be heard in government."
Raymond Will was 23 when he ran for council. He didn't win, but stayed involved and was appointed by the council at age 25 to the Planning Board; all the other members were in their late 30s and above. He brought a youthful perspective to development discussions.
He said, "I ran for City Council in 1993 because I was concerned about neighborhood issues. Even though I lost, I was able to continue to work on those issues when on the Planning Board in 1995."
More recently, Robin Vogt ran for Council two years ago at age 28. This past November he was elected to the state Legislature, becoming our city's youngest currently elected leader. This week, urging other young people to be involved, Robin said, "There is a place for you and your incredible skills in political activism, no matter how big or small the role may be."
We'll likely hear more from Robin Vogt in coming years. Let's hope others his age, and even younger, get involved.
Today's quotes: "Diversity in leadership matters — and getting generational diversity right is a critical part of that." — former mayor Steve Marchand
"One may laugh, but I can only smile when I think of the lessons and experience I gained from Student Government Day, especially as a city councilor 23 years later." — Rich Blalock
"Organizing Student Government Day was one of the highlights of my entire teaching career at PHS. It certainly proved to be a true learning experience for the students." — Mary Carey Foley
Next time: Final request to national Democrats: Keep New Hampshire first!
Variously since 1969, Jim Splaine has been Portsmouth assistant mayor, Police Commission member, and School Board member, as well as New Hampshire state senator and representative. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Splaine: Portsmouth has history of electing young leaders; who's next?