PORTSMOUTH — Candidates for Portsmouth City Council must meet a list of requirements in order to be eligible for the position. Upheld by the city charter, these candidates need to have lived in the city for three years and be a resident of their respective ward for six months, while state law sets the minimum age for all council candidates to be at least 18 years of age.
One 3rd Ward council hopeful just meets the last requirement and would-be what City clerk Diana Ratliff says would be the youngest council member since at least 1980.
Announcing his candidacy in a Facebook video Wednesday afternoon, Portsmouth West High School senior Gary Jenkins will be vying for the seat and the votes of residents living mostly in the area of the Southern Ohio Medical Center and Mound Park.
“I’ve been looking for a way to help my community to be honest with you and this opening allowed me to do so,” Jenkins said. “I see it as a perfect opportunity for someone young.”
Holding an interest in public office for the last two years, the class president has given it serious thought throughout the past six months where word circulated that Mayor Kevin Johnson would not be circulating. Johnson announced officially Monday that he will not be seeking a third term.
Being in an off-year election, where races mostly focus locally instead of representation in Washington or Columbus, getting the word out will be of the utmost importance.
“It can be within 20, 30, 40, 50 votes, very small margins,” said Jenkins, the last 3rd Ward race in 2017 coming down to 64 votes. “I see it as an opportunity, if you work very hard and get elected, then you can make a difference.”
If elected, Jenkins wants to shake up the council’s priorities and promote a general message of economic development.
“The city needs the county and the county needs the city,” he said, pushing for a closer relationship between the Scioto County Commissioners, the Southern Ohio Port Authority, and Council. Jenkins is personal friends with Commissioners Bryan Davis and Cathy Coleman he said.
What he believes matters most to residents and his potential constituents is the bringing back of jobs to the area and continued revitalization of parts of the city.
“We need to get our grant writers together and start applying for every single grant that we are eligible for and get money funneled back down here in southern Ohio,” he said, applauding the county for receiving $400,000 on varying projects through the state’s capital budget.
The conversations surrounding marijuana decriminalization and confederate flags amount to what he defines as “political grandstanding,” or of less importance to the public than what Council has placed on these items.
The attempt to decriminalize marijuana possession beneath 200 grams failed in September, but the potential ban of the flag on city properties remains in discussion on the City Managers. Regardless, they detract from what Jenkins feels is worth council and the public’s time.
“They spend too much time grasping and picking at those little things when we should be focused on the big picture,” he said, also encouraging the hiring of more local people instead of outsiders for the city’s drug rehabilitation centers.
Campaigning for all candidates will continue to be atypical this political season thanks to the coronavirus, where Jenkins knows some adjustments will be needed in his approach. His digital presence, where a website is being designed, along with conversations with the media and mail-out letters will be emphasized.
“I’m not going to hold those large gatherings or large fundraising events,” he said, planning on knocking doors while masked and socially distant to get his petition signed. “You’re going to see a lot more virtual meetings.”
Jenkins asks voters to not see him for his age, but rather what he argues are the more important aspects of his campaign: qualifications and platform.
For those that see him as too young, he responds simply: “They’re wrong.”
“I think with my youth it gives me the ability to rally the younger people within our community to take an initiative, which is what Portsmouth desperately needs,” he said. “If we get a younger person on City Council, hopefully, it will wake up some of these younger children coming through local schools and it will say your voice matters.”
“A young person can make a positive change no matter what they want to do, and I hope I inspire somebody else who is a young person to make a positive difference.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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