CITY HAll When Ken Genser was first elected to the City Council, John Blakely was in kindergarten.
Today, the two men are among 13 candidates vying for four open seats on the City Council.
A fairly recent graduate of Ohio State University, Blakely is part of a slate of young Santa Monicans who are waging campaigns this election season in which the average age of all candidates running for the four local races is about 50 years old.
About six contenders are under the age of 35, including Blakely (25), City Council candidate Michael Kovac (33), Santa Monica College Board of Trustees candidate Heidi Hoeck (25), Rent Control Board candidate Christopher Braun (33), and Ben Allen (30) and Chris Bley (35) for the Board of Education.
“People are excited about young candidates and they like to support young candidates,” Allen, who served on the University of California Board of Regents, said. “There’s a lot to be said about bringing a different generational perspective.”
The enthusiasm in politics from a more youthful crowd could be a reflection of the national scene where Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama has gained popularity among young voters, some of whom have created fan pages on social networking sites like Facebook.
“It’s amazing seeing groups that are historically seen as apolitical really caring about what’s going on,” Kovac, an adviser to small businesses, said. “I’m really optimistic that we will see greater involvement, which means we will see people getting what they want.”
Franklin Gilliam, the dean of UCLA’s School of Public Affairs, said the interest in politics could be a function of demography as the baby boomer population begins retiring and handing over the reigns.
“The baby boomers have held on for so long that it’s sort of impeded the progress for the generation behind the boomers,” Gilliam said.
The youth trend has been seen locally the past few years, Gilliam said, pointing out some of the relatively younger politicians who have been elected, including Assemblyman Fabian Núñez and state Sen. Alex Padilla.
Other factors such as the war on terror, which tends to energize a younger population, and changes in technology, have also sparked interest for younger adults in civic engagement.
Candidates locally downplay the effect that their age might play in their campaigns, stressing that experience speaks more to their qualifications.
“They see me as someone who brings experience but also a new perspective,” Bley, a teacher at the Brentwood School, said.
For some of the candidates, age never even crossed their mind when they first considered running for office.
“I actually forget that I’m young,” Braun said.
Braun, a chiropractor, is among the candidates who are running for the first time. An owner of a small business, Braun said he always felt too busy to become more involved and wanted to wait until everything settled with his job before jumping in the race.
While age might not be much of a factor in a race for the Rent Control Board, Braun said it could be more relevant for the City Council where elected officials have to take on more diverse issues.
“My board is very important but it’s a little more specific to one area of the city,” he said. “But I don’t think (voters) should look at age anyway.”
Braun added that he isn’t surprised by the number of young people running for office, especially with the influence of Obama’s candidacy, which he believes brings the youth out at every level of the government.
One of the youngest candidates running this year, Blakely said he decided to get involved to try and make Santa Monica a better place.
“People are willing to take a step away from the norm and vote for someone who is not an incumbent,” Blakely, an actor and entrepreneur, said. “Those people will look past an age and see what I can bring.”
While Blakely said he is well-versed on issues on the November ballot, he did lack knowledge on at least one of the most recent initiatives — Measure R, a school parcel tax measure that voters approved in February. The measure was mentioned during a recent candidate forum hosted by the Community for Excellent Public Schools and Leadership Effectiveness Accountability Direction. Kovac attended the forum last week and said he didn’t know enough about Measure R to comment.
For some boards, age could mean a closer connection with constituents.
“I’m relatively close to the student experience and I’m a graduate of our schools,” Allen said. “I’ve got a connection to our district that I wouldn’t have if I just came in as a new resident to Santa Monica.”
While age can show voters that a candidate offers a new perspective, there is still proving that needs to be done.
“You can’t just show up and say I’m young, vote for me,” Allen said. “You have to put in serious work to learn about all the things affecting our community.”