Salem teen runs for mayor, gets 33 percent of the vote

SALEM, Ore. (AP) Voting in this year's election was particularly exciting for 19-year-old Micheal Johnson.

Not only was it his first time filling out a general election ballot, but his name was on it.

In a bold and surprisingly premeditated move, the teen decided to run for mayor of Gervais. He lost, but it hasn't deflated his spirits. If anything, it's done just the opposite.

"As it got closer to the election, I was thinking I wasn't going to get a whole lot of votes," he said.

When the early results were posted and he saw that he had captured 33 percent of the votes for mayor, he was relieved and pleased.

Considering that his only campaign methods were through social media and word of mouth, he thinks he could have had a real shot at winning had he invested in yard signs. He should have listened to his mother, who suggested he do just that.

"Maybe if I would have listened to her, I would have gotten more votes and I would have won," he said. "I still think I did pretty good getting a third of the vote using the methods I used."

Micheal (pronounced like Michael) comes across as the serious type. He speaks slowly and articulates each word, breaking into the occasional shy smile. He is admittedly an introvert by nature. His job as a courtesy clerk at the Woodburn Walmart has helped him break out of his shell the past year and a half.

His job entails collecting loose shopping carts in the parking lot or helping customers carry big items to their cars. He also deals with the bottle return machines.

"The fun stuff," he said in a way that was difficult to tell if he was being sarcastic.

He probably was being serious. Micheal seems genuine. He's a smart young man who honestly wanted a shot at being mayor of the small town that has raised him and kept him safe the past 19 years. He still lives in Gervais with his parents and is attending Chemeketa Community College, where he's studying to be an accountant.

The teen graduated from Gervais High School in 2011 and has fond memories of walking with friends to the market to pick up chips and soda.

"Whenever we needed something to do we would walk around town," he said.

Micheal enjoyed growing up in a city with a population of fewer than 2,500 people, and a recent road trip reaffirmed his love for his hometown. He and his brother Joe, 18, departed for California in August. Driving is one of Micheal's favorite activities and he took the wheel the entire 1,800-mile trip. The pair visited several attractions and cities, including San Francisco, which proved to be a bit overwhelming for the teens.

"I'd been to Portland, but it's a lot different than Portland," Micheal said. "There's a lot of people. It kind of pressed on me a bit."

He was never so happy to return to Gervais, where he knows people by name and isn't just another body caught in the rush of the crowd.

By early August, Micheal already knew he was running for mayor. He had already collected 10 signatures and completed his petition for nomination to have his name on the November ballot.

He asked his parents, three uncles, grandmother and several friends for their signatures. He had them verified at the Marion County elections office and then turned in the paperwork to Gervais City Hall. And just like that, he made it on the ballot.

His mother, Vicki Johnson, wasn't shocked in the least when she learned her oldest child was running for mayor.

"When he was in high school, before he was even able to vote, he would read the voter's pamphlet from front to back every time. I knew the potential to be a politician was in him," she said.

Micheal's opponent, incumbent mayor of Gervais, Shanti Platt, on the other hand, was surprised on more than one level, first, that a young person was taking interest, which she thought was exciting, and second, that he hadn't yet served at the city level in any capacity.

"Here's this unknown who came in and got the paperwork and didn't go for a council position, but jumped right into the mayor spot," she said with a laugh.

Platt, who has been mayor of Gervais since 2006, said she is planning to encourage Micheal to fill an open seat on the city's budget committee. Her advice for him is to attend council meetings, read the city charter and take advantage of volunteer opportunities within the city.

She also hopes he doesn't give up the dream even if he leaves Gervais.

"The world is a big place and people with that passion are needed no matter where they are," she said.

Those who know Micheal best say he has a history as an overachiever.

"He got me to register to just so I could vote for him," Joe said with a laugh.

Micheal said he's known since he was a junior or senior in high school that he would run for mayor as soon as the opportunity presented itself. His reasons are fairly straightforward.

He thought it would be kind of cool to be the leader of the city, he said. But beyond the cool factor, he thinks it's important for young people to be involved in politics.

"I'd like to see more people my age in politics," he said. "People tend to care only for the short term or only their generation. (If younger people were in office), they'd care more about the long run, I believe."

Micheal certainly isn't the youngest person to ever run for mayor. In January 2002, 18-year-old Jeffrey Dunkel was sworn in as mayor of Mount Carbon, Pa., population 91. The youngest mayor ever elected was Brian Zimmerman, who was 11 when he became the honorary mayor of a small unincorporated Texas town, inspiring the 1986 film, "The Lone Star Kid."

On election night, Micheal stayed up waiting for returns, which wasn't a big deal because he generally stays up until midnight working on school projects. When the results came in, he showed his mom.

"She thought it was cool," he said.

When asked to elaborate about his family's reaction, his shy smile appeared.

"We're not people to jump up and get excited about stuff," he said.

If he's still living in Gervais in 2014, Micheal said he'll likely give the run for mayor another shot. By that time, if he wins, he'll be old enough to legally enjoy a celebratory glass of Champagne.


Information from: Statesman Journal,

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.