By John Celock
A nineteen year old college student who has been involved in community affairs since advocating for pedestrian safety in elementary school is now the youngest mayor in Maryland history.
Brandon Paulin, a political science student at the College of Southern Maryland, was elected mayor of Indian Head, a 3800 person community in Maryland’s Charles County. Paul, who campaigned on an economic development platform, placed first in the Indian Head City Council race on May 5, earning him the four year term as the community’s mayor starting May 12.
“I started to get really interested in government and politics. Indian Head is a small town. It had been one of the relatively larger towns in the county,” Paulin told The Celock Report. “There are a lot of vacant buildings in our area and that is something I have been thinking about since 2009, 2010. Trying to figure out different ways and solutions to solve this problem.”
Paulin may be a newcomer to local office but not to community affairs in Indian Head. About nine years ago, Paulin started going to Council meetings to advocate for the local government to place signs saying that cars need to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks in the crosswalks. After making his request at one meeting, he kept going back to the Council to press for the signs. After getting the signs in place, Paulin said he gained an interest in local government and continued attending Council meetings.
Under Indian Head’s form of government, Paulin sought one of three Council seats in this year’s election, with the top vote getter becoming mayor and the second highest vote getter becoming vice mayor. Paulin captured 239 votes in the election to capture the mayor’s chair from incumbent Dennis Scheessele. Local elections in Indian Head and nonpartisan and Paulin is not affiliated with a political party.
Paulin’s main policy proposal is a vacant building registration program, similar to a program in Wilmington, Del. Under the proposal, buildings that sit vacant for more than 45 days have to be registered with local officials and a fee is imposed after a year and the fee keeps increasing annually. Paulin said he sees this as a way to deal with vacant storefronts in Indian Head’s downtown.
“It motivates them to get something in there,” Paulin said of downtown property owners.
Paulin said he wants to bring in new retail businesses in the community, including bringing a grocery store back to Indian Head. He said that with the nearest grocery store being a 20 minute drive, it is a hardship for residents, particularly senior citizens.
Paulin also said that he wants to work with county officials to develop a business incentive program to promote economic development in Indian Head and neighboring communities in his end of Charles County.
Paulin said that he got a positive reaction from voters while campaigning, saying that people wanted to see “new creative ideas” for local government, including in the economic development realm.
While Paulin might be Maryland’s youngest ever mayor, others in his age range have led their communities. In 2005, 18-year-old high school senior Michael Sessions was elected mayor of Hillsdale, Mich., while John Tyler Hammons was 19 when he was elected mayor Muskogee, Okla. in 2008. Both Sessions and Hammons served one term. Former Smith Center, Kan. Mayor Trey Joy was 19 when he was first elected in 2009 to a job he would hold until his November 2014 resignation, over a year into his second term.
Paulin has similar motivations to Sessions in running for office. Sessions has said that economic development in Hillsdale prompted him to seek his town’s top spot as a high school student.
Paulin said that he is focusing himself on Indian Head and has not given thought to higher office.
With the media attention surrounding his historic election, Paulin said he can see it help his goals and community.
“The media attention helped Indian Head. Before Indian Head would never have been talked about. Now we have a little bit of attention,” Paulin said. “It is important to strike when the iron is hot. When you start implementing some of these plans that me and the Council want to enact.”