On April 12, 2015, Andrew Rodriguez wrapped up an around-the-world run at the Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon.
Exactly one year later, the Rutgers alumnus celebrated his victory as the youngest elected city council member in his home of Walnut City, Calif.
Turns out running five half marathons in five weeks is excellent training for running a political campaign.
“A half marathon is not a sprint, it’s a race. You have to be persistent and think long-term,” said Rodriguez, whose “Run the World 2K15” fundraiser benefited City of Hope Hospital in California. “It’s the same thing with a campaign: It’s a long race; you have to be mentally strong and persevere.”
Becoming a public servant has been Rodriguez’s goal since boyhood – albeit one he hadn’t planned on pursuing so soon. But after graduating from Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and minor in planning and public policy, he quickly grew frustrated with the mounting tension among city council members in his suburban Los Angeles community.
“Our city felt divided,” said Rodriguez, who also works as a college and career ambassador for AmeriCorps through their Youth Policy Institute. “I wanted to work with everyone and just bringing a fresh perspective to city government.”
At first he urged several other qualified contenders to run for the open council seat. When they all declined, friends suggested he take the lead. But Rodriguez was wary about whether voters would support a young candidate.
Despite his lack of experience, funds and major endorsements, Rodriguez went for it. He became one of six candidates – two of whom were incumbents – competing for three spots on the Walnut City council.
Some of his prior bold moves, including leaving the familiarity of his native West Coast for Rutgers and launching a charity run that crisscrossed the globe, helped prepare him for the challenging campaign.
“No one babies you at Rutgers, but you are given an amazing set of tools. It’s up to you to utilize them,” he said. “That’s what I did in my race for council.”
While his opponents raised between $30,000 and $70,000 to fund their campaigns and sent out direct mailers each week. Rodriguez, who ran as a Democrat, raised $6,000, borrowed another $6,000, and met with his constituents directly.
“I walked the entire city – going door to door – in five months,” he said.
The underdog parlayed his experience working on Cory Booker’s Senate campaign into mounting his own, effectively recruiting high school interns and using social media to register and galvanize young voters.
On April 12, Rodriguez made history, besting the fourth place finisher by 524 votes to claim that third council seat and become the youngest serving city council member in California.
Instead of working against him, Rodriguez said his youthfulness and positive message resonated with many first time voters, which may have played a role in his victory.
“There’s a lot of apathy among my generation. We are motivated but very discouraged because our political system is so negative,” he said. “And that’s too bad because millennials are going to be the biggest voting block in five to 10 years, so we’re going to have a lot to say if we get out and vote.”
Aside from being mistaken as an intern during a meeting with a developer at city hall, Rodriguez said his colleagues are taking him seriously.
“At the end of the day, I’m one of the five votes,” said Rodriguez, whose term runs through 2020. “Everybody has a learning curve. I have energy and passion to be informed and work hard. I did my homework and people see that.”
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