Bringing a youthful point of view to board, politics
By Lilly O’Donnell
Dodge Landesman ran against Rosie Mendez for City Council last year when he was just 18 and a high school junior, in what New York magazine called “the most creative and elaborate scheme to get out of going to class since Ferris Bueller.” Though the youngest City Council candidate in New York’s history eventually dropped out of the race and endorsed his opponent, Landesman’s political career is still off to an early start.
Landesman, now 19 and a Gramercy resident, is a member of Community Board 6, and currently the city’s youngest serving community board member. Board 6 covers most of the East Side between 14th and 59th Sts.
He got his first taste of politics when he volunteered as Manhattan campaign manager for Senator Mike Gravel, who Landesman refers to as “a good politician from Alaska,” during Gravel’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in the last election.
Gravel dropped out of the running in 2008, and switched to Libertarian, but failed to win that party’s nomination.
Observing Obama’s presidential campaign, Landesman noticed how many young people were getting excited about politics for the first time, but was disappointed to see that enthusiasm die down when it came time for local elections; so he decided to run for City Council in an effort to keep youth involvement up.
“There were a lot of issues that I really felt passionate about,” he told The Villager. “I could bring a fresh approach for party politics.”
He believed himself to be a good candidate because of his youth, not in spite of it, as one might expect. He didn’t cut himself off from his generation, still taking time to hang out with friends — “most of whom are not politically interested,” he noted — to see at least one movie a week in theaters, explore the city and sing karaoke.
Rather than straining to prove that he was competent even though he was young, he banked on his unique perspective on local politics.
“We’re often the ones that feel the most passionately about issues,” he said of young people. “People from all perspectives need to get involved.”
As an example of the importance of young adults involving themselves in politics, Landesman brought up local bars and the noise they cause, an issue often discussed by community boards. He said that while older residents clearly have an opinion on the matter, and while noise pollution is a concern, it’s also important to hear from younger people, who are often the ones making the noise.
“We need that contrast,” he said. “Each person needs an equal voice.”
While he clearly recognizes the position he’s in to rally other young people to speak up about politics, he’s not just a symbol for them, but is taking advantage of the platform he has as a community board member to advocate for other issues that matter to him.
As a former special education student who struggled with math, Landesman is personally familiar with the challenges of transitioning from a special education school to a mainstream school — such as the prep school he graduated from just last week — and other issues that impact special education kids.
“I would like to create a special committee to deal specifically with that issue,” he said of his goals as a special education advocate.
The political prodigy is satisfied for now with his seat on the community board. His farthest-reaching political plan at the moment — besides maintaining his seats on the community board and on the board of Marriage Equality New York — is to serve as youth coordinator for several political campaigns, not his own, this summer. (He held this position in Yetta Kurland’s City Council campaign last year).
Landesman isn’t planning to run in the next City Council election in 2013.
“I fully expect Rosie [Mendez] to run for a third term,” he said. “And I would enthusiastically support her as I did last year.”
Landesman will attend Manhattanville College in the fall, but hasn’t planned beyond that.
“Although,” he noted, “graduate school may be on the table, as I would like to help out with the special education system I participated in for so many years.”
He’s also considering ways to be involved other than becoming a teacher.
“Hopefully, I’ll be working for an organization I care about within the community,” he said, leaving things open ended, not letting his early start narrow the possibilities he has to choose from for the future.