Long Island teen runs for State District Senate as the face of a new generation

19-year-old Democrat Skyler Johnson campaigning in Mount Sinai, Long Island ahead of the Nov. 3 New York Senate District 1 election.

By James Bowen and Cece Cruz

A nineteen-year-old Suffolk County Community College student will be competing against Laura Ahearn for New York State Senate District 1 in the April 28 Democratic primaries. Skyler Johnson said he wants to make public college tuition more affordable across New York by winning over the youth vote.

In 2018, 600-700 millennials ran for office in 46 states, according to Run for Something, a Democratic group. In January 2019, 32 Millennials were sworn into the 116th Congress increasing their representation in office by five.

“This group of young members will significantly lower the average age of Congress to better represent the population of the United States,” Layla Zaidane, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer at Millennial Action Project, stated in a press release.

Back in January, the longest serving member of the senate, incumbent Kenneth Lavalle, announced his plans to retire. Johnson, who studies political science at Suffolk County Community College believes his campaign will cater to younger voters needs.

“A friend of mine was working 60-hour weeks to try to afford his college tuition, eat and actually live on the island,” Johnson told The Osprey. ”I realized that our representatives weren’t doing anything to solve these problems and that I could be a voice for them in the New York State Senate.”

But Johnson isn’t the only first-time candidate in New York. Cameron Koffman, 22, is running for the 73rd assembly district.

Koffman held an event on January 10 where 130 of the attendees were all under the age of 30.

“I think it’s great to have more people in their 20s interested in politics and to be open to getting involved,” Koffman said. “It kind of breeds our next generation to be politically active and to ultimately be there to fight these issues that we’re going to be facing, whether it’s climate change, the gun violence crisis or the opioid epidemic.”

A 2019 study revealed that only 20 percent of subjects consider themselves to be very or extremely interested in political issues. Despite their little interest in political issues, 74 percent of 17 to 22-year-olds stated that they intend to vote in the upcoming election.

This new generation is having less political discussion with one another than previous generations, Samuel Abrams, a visiting Scholar with the American Enterprise Institute says. 

“There are a lot of students here saying that they are interested in people like Bloomberg or Joe Biiden but they were very uncomfortable to admit that publicly for fear that they would be ostracized and that it would hurt their standing here on campus,” Abrams said.

A reason for this fear he says is due to this idea that “you’re either with us or against us” that this generation holds each other up to. 

“There is this general sense of hopelessness,” he said. “They feel like they just can’t get their voice out. Why are they voting for grandpa?”

Garnering youth support would prove immense in the District 5 election, says Shaniyat Chowdhury. The 27-year-old believes, like Johnson and Koffman, that young people should be in and around politics.

“If the young people do turn out in this election, it’ll be a testament of what young people can do and the power they have,” Chowdhury said. “Our biggest motive is to empower young voters and send a message to the rest of the democratic establishment that young people do have a voice.”

According to Pew’s 2020 electorate demographics, Gen Z and millennials combined are expected to make up 37 percent of voters this November.

This youth support gives Johnson a feeling of optimism. But Johnson faces competition from 49-year-old Republican Anthony Palumbo for the seat.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, Koffman believes that by young candidates running, they are conveying a message of urgency. “We need a new generation of leadership,” he said.

 

About James Bowen 2 Articles
James Bowen is a journalism student at Stony Brook University who covers Long Island news.