Rally backs change in council age limit

Amendment would allow 18-year-olds to seek office

July 02, 2004|By Malena Amusa | Malena Amusa,SUN STAFF

A rally supporting a proposed city charter amendment to lower the minimum age for City Council members to 18 kicked off a four-month campaign yesterday that proponents hope will increase youth voter turnout in the November elections.

Last month, the council voted to put the question on the fall ballot. Currently, the charter requires council members to be at least 21 years old.

Although supporters of the charter amendment don't have a specific youth candidate in mind should voters approve the amendment, a coalition of City Council members and youth organizations hopes to make youth more aware of their political options.

Fewer than 10 people were at the City Hall rally supporting the charter change. Among those attending were Council President Sheila Dixon, Councilman Robert W. Curran and Marvin L. Cheatham, a former city election supervisor and chairman of the Maryland Voting Rights Restoration Coalition.

Cheatham said young people deserve to have a more active role in government.

"After 18 years of life, they're being told their opinion doesn't matter," he said. "There's no wonder they're turned off from politics."

Dixon said that the success of the campaign depends on first-time youth voters coming out in substantial numbers. A key, she said, was for young voters to "understand they're a part of the process."

Ishmael Cason, 18, a student at Baltimore City Community College who attended the rally, said he would run if the amendment passed, but admitted he has a lot to learn about local politics.

"First, I'll vote, and then there's no limit," Cason said. "Everything starts with one step."

Bryan Washington, 15, and his brother Brandon Washington, 17, had been attending the nearby launch of a summer jobs program, YouthWorks. Both Northern High School students had landed jobs, and both said they liked the idea of 18- to 20-year old council candidates.

"Older people focus on stuff we don't need," said Bryan Washington.

Brandon Washington said electing someone younger than 21 to office would guarantee youth issues are heard.

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