Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

20-Somethings Begin to Grab Political Reins GENERATION X VANGUARD

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

20-Somethings Begin to Grab Political Reins GENERATION X VANGUARD

Article excerpt

LOUIE VALDEZ sounds like a typical Generation Xer. At 23, he still lives at home with his parents. He has yet to graduate from college. He is currently unemployed.

But there the stereotype ends.

In January, Mr. Valdez will become the youngest mayor ever of Nogales, Ariz. - and the youngest mayor, currently, in the United States.

Mr. Valdez says he represents a new generation of American political leaders, idealistic yet realistic, with the energy and enthusiasm to tackle tough problems.

"We're really a very committed bunch of kids," says the young Democrat of the post-baby-boom generation, now in their twenties.

He may have a point.

Though no definitive list of 20-something politicians exists, a growing number of young people are putting their nameplates on local, state, and even federal offices - defying the popular perception of Generation Xers as a cynical, nihilistic lot distrustful of government.

"We're adding voices to the table one or two at a time," says Sherry Barsky, the 24-year-old founder of Youth National Organization for Tomorrow, a fundraising group for Democratic candidates under 40.

In 1992, Fidel Vargas became mayor of Baldwin Park, Calif., at age 23. In addition to his mayoral duties, the young Democrat is now a fulltime senior policy analyst for Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan (R). Sen. Edward Kennedy's 27-year-old son, Patrick, was elected to Rhode Island's legislature in November.

Generation Xers have captured city council seats from Elizabeth, N.J., to Chapel Hill, N.C., to Santa Fe, N.M. They serve as mayors of Jersey City, N.J., and Tallahassee, Fla. Many of the new youth brigade believe they bring a different perspective to politics.

"We're taking different approaches rather than wallowing in self-pity," says Mark Chilton, a 24-year-old town council member in Chapel Hill, citing votes to keep bus fares low and to boost recycling efforts. "We're just not interested in the politics of two generations gone by."

Only 6 percent of Congress is younger than 40, but Ms. Barsky says, "We're trying to change that, to turn it into double-digit figures by the year 2000."

But Valdez, soon to take office, will have his work cut out for him in Nogales (population 25,000). …

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