Teen seeks seat on new city coun­cil

Imperial Valley Press - - LOCAL & REGION - BY CHEVEL JOHNSON

At 19, she’s barely old enough to vote.

But Mary-Pat Hec­tor of Litho­nia, Ge­or­gia, says her as­pi­ra­tions are much big­ger than her age and she’s hop­ing Tues­day’s elec­tion is an­other step in her jour­ney.

Hec­tor, a Spel­man Col­lege sopho­more, is the youngest can­di­date in the race to fill one of five seats on the city coun­cil for the newly formed City of Stonecrest. Get­ting on the bal­lot, how­ever, hasn’t been easy.

An op­po­nent chal­lenged her can­di­dacy, ques­tion­ing her el­i­gi­bil­ity based on her age. Ge­or­gia law re­quires can­di­dates to be at least 21 years old un­less a city char­ter specif­i­cally makes an ex­cep­tion. The DeKalb County Board of Regis­tra­tion and Elec­tions ruled that Hec­tor could run be­cause the city’s char­ter doesn’t specif­i­cally men­tion an age re­stric­tion.

Hec­tor said her age shouldn’t be an is­sue.

“Just be­cause I’m young doesn’t mean I lack ex­pe­ri­ence,” she said.

Hec­tor is not a stranger to pol­i­tics or com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing. At 15, she founded the non­profit Youth in Ac­tion USA, which works to mo­bi­lize young peo­ple to solve prob­lems in their com­mu­ni­ties. She’s also served as na­tional youth direc­tor for Rev. Al Sharp­ton’s Na­tional Ac­tion Net­work, as a youth leader for Hil­lary for Amer­ica’s Mil­len­nial Vic­tory Coun­cil, ad­vo­cated for crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form with the Obama Ad­min­is­tra­tion and worked with Cities United on safety is­sues in mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties.

“The big­gest thing is just get­ting peo­ple to see more than just the age, and more about the vi­sion,” Hec­tor said. “And the fact that young peo­ple can gov­ern.”

Hec­tor, who is study­ing po­lit­i­cal science and com­par­a­tive women’s stud­ies, said she’s happy her can­di­dacy has sparked de­bate.

“It’s time for young peo­ple to step up to the plate and do some­thing to fix the prob­lems they see in their com­mu­ni­ties,” she said. “In­stead of wait­ing for some­one to save us, to save our com­mu­nity, why can’t we ad­dress our own is­sues and run for the same of­fices that older peo­ple seek.”

The other can­di­dates in the coun­cil race are former At­lanta po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tor Geral­dine Cham­pion; former DeKalb County School Board mem­ber Jesse “Jay” Cun­ning­ham; Jonathan “JP” Phillips, a home­own­ers’ as­so­ci­a­tion chief; and Ge­orge Turner Jr., pres­i­dent of the county’s Dis­trict 5 Com­mu­nity Coun­cil, who chal­lenged Hec­tor’s can­di­dacy.

Cun­ning­ham, 58, ap­plauds Hec­tor’s ini­tia­tive, but notes en­thu­si­asm alone is not enough. He said he wants to make sure Stonecrest works with the county and state to en­hance the city’s foot­print.

“I’m glad to see that we have some­one, who at an early age is tak­ing the lead to get in­volved in gov­ern­ing,” he said. “But at the same time, some­times you need to sit and learn and build a foun­da­tion and work your way up from there.”

Cham­pion, at 76, said she be­lieves Hec­tor is “a smart young lady” but not quite ready to take on such a lead­er­ship role. “Maybe in the next four to five years, she will be right for pol­i­tics,” she said. “Right now, pol­i­tics are so dirty it will just chew her up and spit her out. She needs to live awhile longer and get that un­der her belt.”

Nei­ther Phillips nor Turner re­sponded to email re­quests for an in­ter­view.

Hec­tor said sev­eral peo­ple have told her she “should wait my turn” but she doesn’t em­brace that phi­los­o­phy.

Hec­tor said Stonecrest was formed to cre­ate eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. “But a city that cen­ters on eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment won’t hap­pen if we don’t ed­u­cate our kids or curb vi­o­lence. The vi­sion I have for the city is much big­ger than just sit­ting back and wait­ing my turn. Things need to hap­pen now.”

Stonecrest, a city of about 50,000 res­i­dents, cov­ers most of south­east DeKalb County, in­clud­ing ar­eas near Litho­nia and Stonecrest Mall.

AP PHOTO

Mary-Pat Hec­tor with the Na­tional Ac­tion Net­work, speaks dur­ing a com­mu­nity town hall fo­rum at Ebenezer Bap­tist Church on Dec. 8, 2014, in At­lanta.

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