He can’t legally drink, but 19-year-old Brandon Paulin is about to take over running the town of Indian Head in Charles County, making him the youngest elected mayor in Maryland.
Paulin will be sworn in Tuesday as mayor of the town — population about 4,000 — after winning the May 5 election.
“He’s the youngest mayor I’ve seen,” said Jim Peck, director of research at the Maryland Municipal League, which keeps track of more than 150 municipalities in the state. “And I’ve been here 31 years.”
Paulin netted 239 votes, more than twice as many as incumbent Mayor Dennis Scheessele, and 52 more than the second-place finisher, Ron Sitoula, who will become vice mayor. The third of four children, Paulin said he is the first in his family to enter politics. His father is an 20-year veteran of the U.S. Capitol Police, and his mother is a stay-at-home mom.
Paulin said he got the political bug at age 11 when he started going to town meetings in Indian Head, best known as home to a naval base since the late 1800s. One of the town’s biggest employers is the Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center. Paulin spoke up at a public meeting about cars not stopping for pedestrians at one of the bases.
When the town’s officials hadn’t done anything in a month to address the issue, Paulin said, he went back to them.
“I don’t think they expected me to come back,” he recalled. “I kind of caught them.”
A month later, there were signs warning drivers to be more careful.
Paulin said he likes the process of making communities better and creating policies and laws. His favorite thing to do? Write legislation. No surprise that he is a political science major at the College of Southern Maryland.
“That may sound weird,” he acknowledged. He said he also enjoys working to write policies that “people like and can agree on — even when not everyone has the same view on things.”
Paulin’s campaign slogan, “New vision, new way,” came about because he thinks Indian Head has been “on a decline for a very long time.”
“The same two people were running and getting reelected as mayor and vice mayor. Nothing changes,” he said.
“After 20 years,” added the teen, who is not quite 20 himself, “you’ve just got to stop believing them.”
Paulin said he went to almost every door in Indian Head to ask for votes with help from friends and family members. In addition to him and Sitoula, the town’s third elected official will be council member Curtis Smith, who received 140 votes.
Ken Robinson, vice president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, said in a news release that Paulin’s mayoral win “shows that our democratic process is available and open for everyone to participate.”
Paulin isn’t the first teenager to serve in a Maryland municipal government.
Spencer Schlosnagle was 19 when he was elected to the Town Council of Friendsville in Garrett County — population 491 — in the early 1980s, according to Maryland Municipal League officials. He became mayor at 21 and still holds the position, Peck said.
In Indian Head, Paulin’s next challenge will be answer the question of what a millennial wants to change in the town.
“I definitely want to change the feel of town hall,” he said, calling it “uninviting.”
“I always want to be open and available,” Paulin said. “If you want to go and ask for the mayor, he’s there.
“I always want to be working for the people.”
He said his next round of classes for college are mostly online so he can finish his degree and still be available to his constituents.
“I’m pretty confident I can keep the balance between being mayor and keeping my grades up,” Paulin said.