Seth Allen, Nathanial Horowitz, Mark Halwick Jr. and Nick Woerner, all 27, could radically alter the demographics of the council, which currently does not have a single member under 30. The four differ in background, political affiliation and experience, but all have shown a willingness to jump into the small scale arena of local politics usually seen as the province of the middle-aged.
“You’re not voting on Roe v. Wade or the war in Afghanistan,” said Allen of the pull of local politics. “You’re voting on parking meters, things that may seem trivial, but they’re important to the people who live here.”
Allen, who grew up on Grandview Avenue, had his first brush with politics courtesy of Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, who was a close friend of the family and would lead schoolmates on tours of the state Capitol. He landed his first government job at age 14 working for the city’s parks and recreation department collecting fees at Kingston Point. In 2001 he won his first election, as class president. After graduating from Fordham College with a degree in communications, Allen went to work for a Manhattan PR firm where, he said, his boss was heavily involved in the effort to elect Barack Obama president. The registered Republican joined the wave of young voters who helped put Obama in office. A short time later he was out of job and feeling disillusioned with big-time politics.
“The election happened, the recession hit and I was laid off,” said Allen. “It really reminded me that political change can best be achieved at the local level, not the national level.”
Back in Kingston, Allen was working as the manager of Boitson’s restaurant on North Front Street when he became involved in the contentious dispute over a plan to renovate the Pike Plan canopy, a project pushed by incumbent Alderman Tom Hoffay but opposed by some Uptown business owners. When Allen learned that Kingston GOP Party Chairman Tony Sinagra was seeking a candidate to take on Hoffay, Allen stepped forward. He also threw in a bonus — recruiting his friend and KHS student government treasurer Horowitz to run against council veteran Charlie Landi in the Third Ward.
Horowitz, a fourth generation Kingstonian returned to the city to work in the family business, J &A roofing, after graduating from Franklin Pierce College with a degree in political science. Horowitz said he had followed politics at the local, state and national level since he was young, and now views hometown elections offered the best shot to make a difference.
“That’s where your vote really affects lives, more than what Obama or whoever is passing,” said Horowitz.
Like the other young candidates, Horowitz said that his peers tended to focus on the national political scene while ignoring the day-to-day legislative action around issues in their own backyards. It’s an attitude he attributes to the economy and changing social patterns which have led young people to delay milestones, like starting a family or buying a house, which make them feel more invested in their community. It’s an attitude, Horowitz said, that needs to change.
“People are going to say that I have no experience, but at the same time Kingston needs some new people and some new ideas,” said Horowitz. “There are a lot of people on the council who have been there so long, and are so entrenched, you need new blood.”
Nobody could accuse Nick Woerner, Our Lady of Lourdes High School Class of 2002, of apathy towards local politics. At age 27, he’s not making his debut on the political scene; he’s planning a comeback. Woerner’s grandfather, Larry Woerner, was chairman of Kingston’s Democratic Committee for 40 years and Nick Woerner grew up knocking on doors campaigning for Democrats like the late Mayor T.R. Gallo.
“I guess I was about 4 when I made my first delve into politics,” said Woerner.
In 2003, at age 19, he made his first run for office, losing a bid for Town of Ulster supervisor. Two years later, he tried again and won. Re-elected in 2007, Woerner’s second term in office would be his last. Under fire for including a steep tax hike in the town’s 2009 budget, Woerner was soundly beaten by Republican Jim Quigley. At age 25, Woerner followed the well-worn path of defeated politicians and went to work in government relations, in his case on behalf of the TechCity office complex.
Now, running for an open seat in Ward 5, Woerner is back in the campaign trail where, he said, he has grown used to contending with the skeptical looks of older would-be constituents when a youthful candidate shows up at the door asking for their vote.
“During my first two campaigns I did have to deal with the experience and the age issue, I’ve had people make comments like, ‘I have underwear older than you,” said Woerner. “Ageism is definitely an issue in politics.”
While Woerner was reaching for the brass ring of election to executive office, Mark Halwick Jr. was making his bones as a foot soldier on behalf of Kingston’s Democratic Committee. Halwick caught the political bug in 2000 when he interviewed Bill Clinton during an assignment for Kingston High School’s television channel. By 2003 he was (and still is) the youngest member of the committee. When he accepted the party endorsement to run for the Ward 9 council seat left vacant by incumbent Hayes Clement’s mayoral run, party leaders praised him for his fundraising efforts and hard work on behalf of city Democrats. This is his second run for office — in 2009 he was edged out by Clement in a primary.
Halwick, who works as a videographer for the New York State Assembly and a real estate broker, said when confronted with doubts about his age and experience, he explains his deep roots in the city.
“I tell them that I was born and raised in the Ninth Ward, my grandparents lived in the Ninth Ward,” said Halwick. “I know from speaking to them, and to other people what Kingston used to be and I see the vision for what Kingston can be.”
A fresh perspective
All of the young candidates will have to contend with an electorate that skews heavily towards older homeowners whose core issues, like property taxes and home values, do not resonate with their twenty-something peers. But they are banking on the premise that voters will see value in a fresh look at old problems. Allen, who has grown accustomed to working with his elders as the youngest member, and head of, the Old Dutch Church’s men’s group, said that he wanted to leverage technology to create efficiencies in city government. Woerner, meanwhile, pointed out that young people, in the midst of making key decisions about whether to start families and put down roots in Kingston should have a voice in the debate over the cities future.
“There are a lot of areas where young people’s input could be very helpful to the City of Kingston,” said Woerner. “T.R Gallo started on the Common Council when he was in his mid-20s, it’s the right age and I wish more people my age would get involved.”