Age bans 19 year old from mayorial race

Lisa Hlavinka

Don’t tell Brett McClafferty one vote doesn’t matter.

In May he lost the Streetsboro mayoral primary by only one vote, finishing third behind Linda Kovacs.

There will be plenty of other races for McClafferty. After all, he is 19 years old.

It’s not all done for McClafferty this election cycle, either. After missing out on the mayoral election, he decided to run for Portage County Commissioner. He has seen support from around the state, particularly the Ohio Young Democrats.

Another group that has been giving him attention is the American Civil Liberties Union.

Soon after his introduction to local politics, the Streetsboro Charter Review Commission voted to put an amendment on today’s ballot to make the age requirement to run for office in Streetsboro 23 years old. While the amendment would not prevent McClafferty from running for mayor again in four years, he still feels it is age discrimination.

“I don’t think that it was directed at me,” McClafferty said. “I think it was directed at the entire young demographic and the entire young citizens of Streetsboro.”

The Charter Review Commission decided to put the amendment on the ballot after citizens and politicians were concerned that a 19 year old might not have enough life experience to hold public office.

“[The commission] talked about the fact that Streetsboro has a $20 million budget and people felt that an 18-year-old mayor might not have the capability to deal with a $20 million budget,” said Steve Michniak, chair of the commission.

The Charter Review Commission is unbiased as to what it puts on the ballot. In fact, Michniak said he personally would not vote for the amendment. However, he said he thinks the amendment is constitutional and is not discrimination.

Discrimination, he said, occurs when there is no reasoning behind it. At 19, a person is just out of high school and moving out for the first time. By age 23 people have had more life experience through work, college or military service.

McClafferty disagrees. It does not matter to him that the amendment does not affect him; he is fighting it because he sees it as wrong.

“My argument is this: You don’t have a problem sending us over to Iraq. You don’t have a problem sending us to Afghanistan. We can take a bullet for you, but we can’t represent you in office? What sense is there in that?” said McClafferty, whose friend, Jason Hernandez, was killed Sept. 7 in Iraq.

McClafferty feels he will bring a more progressive and liberal attitude to the position if elected county commissioner. Two of three county commissioner seats are open this election, which are currently held by Chris Smeiles and Maureen Frederick.

“One person can inflict a lot of change,” he said. “I feel that if given that opportunity, I can make big changes because I have the initiative and I also think I have the intellect and the mental capacity to take on these tasks.”

As for the assumption he does not have enough life experience to handle the job of county commissioner, McClafferty said that young people have many more advantages than people might think.

“I can make the assumption the less life experience you have, the better you are,” he said. “Because you haven’t had all that time to become tainted, or involve yourself in corrupt activities.”

Andy Padrutt, 26-year-old city councilman from Green, said he faced age discrimination when he first became involved in politics. When he ran for Green City Council at age 18, a motion was made to strike his name from the ballot, based on a loophole in the city charter that stated those running for office had to have been voting for at least two years.

Padrutt won a seat in the 1999 election, and four years later he was re-elected with the most votes. This election Padrutt is running for mayor of Green. To Padrutt, who is elected to office is something for the voters to decide, not for a law to restrict.

“I think it is an insult to the voters,” said Padrutt. “If they feel that someone is too young to handle a job, then they won’t vote for them.”

Contact public affairs reporter Lisa Hlavinka at [email protected].