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Too young to vote, but asking for yours

Tahseen Chowdhury, a 17-year-old senior at Stuyvesant High School, intends to challenge State Senator Jose Peralta in next year’s Democratic primary in Queens. (Photo: An Rong Xu for The New York Times)

Tahseen Chowdhury, a 17-year-old senior at Stuyvesant High School, intends to challenge State Senator Jose Peralta in next year’s Democratic primary in Queens. (Photo: An Rong Xu for The New York Times)

by Lisa W. Foderaro
By any measure, Tahseen Chowdhury is no ordinary 17-year-old. He is president of the student government at Stuyvesant High School, among New York City’s most selective public schools, and leads the student advisory council for the borough of Manhattan. He even helped found two companies: an event photography business and a firm that teaches students computer programming and engineering.
It stands to reason that Mr. Chowdhury, a senior, would cast the widest possible net when applying to college. But he is confining his search to New York — and not because he needs to stay close to family in East Elmhurst, Queens.
Rather, Mr. Chowdhury, a Democrat, is mounting a campaign for the State Senate, and wants to be within striking distance of the State Capitol in Albany.
With the State Legislature in session from January to June, Mr. Chowdhury envisions an unusual schedule of alternating semesters, one that would spread his college career over eight years. “If I win, I would take the spring semesters off to be in Albany and then go to college in the fall,” he said. “I will have to choose a college that will work with that schedule.”
Mr. Chowdhury’s campaign is hardly unique. Across the New York region, and indeed the country, young people are turning their attention to politics, motivated in part by the election of President Trump. From mayoral races to state legislative campaigns, teenagers and others who are too young to vote are canvassing neighborhoods and learning the intricacies of electoral politics. Some are running for office themselves.
The trend is heartening to academics and observers of public service like Gerald Benjamin, a professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Dr. Benjamin said he has long detected a distinct lack of interest in elective office in young people, even those otherwise active in environmental advocacy and identity politics.
Mr. Trump’s victory changed that, he said. “The reaction to Trump was: How did this happen and how do we keep it from happening again?” said Dr. Benjamin, himself a former county legislator in the Hudson Valley. “I keep telling people, ‘Run for office.’ There seems to be a new cohort of young people who are becoming engaged.”
In Kansas, two 16-year-olds recently announced that they would seek the Democratic nomination for governor next year, and a 17-year-old announced this week that he would be running as a Republican. While some states have a minimum age for governors’ races, Kansas does not. Neither does Vermont, where 13-year-old Ethan Sonneborn drew national press coverage — much of it lighthearted — after he announced his intention to run for governor.
In New York City, Mr. Chowdhury plans to challenge an incumbent state senator, Jose Peralta, in a Democratic primary in Queens next fall. In New York State, candidates must be 18 to hold state or local office, and Mr. Chowdhury will turn 18 just in time for the 2018 primary.
Mr. Chowdhury comes from a working-class immigrant family in Queens (his father works in a deli and his mother delivers newspapers). He said he became disillusioned with Senator Peralta’s record after learning that he had joined the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of breakaway Democrats in the State Senate who collaborate with Republicans.
In Queens, Mr. Chowdhury is hoping that his inexperience will boost his chances next fall. “I’m so young,” he said, “that it’s impossible for me to have any special interests.” (-New York Times)

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