MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV) If you’re looking to run for political office, don’t count yourself out if you’re young. Two young mayors from Northeast Wisconsin are leaving their mark – dedicated leaders committed to public service.
When it comes to politics and pursuing office – many might assume it’s not a young man’s game. But don’t tell that to Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels, now in his third term.
“I was elected to city council when I was 18, a senior in high school that April, graduated that May, elected mayor at 22, four years later,” Nickels said.
Or Appleton Mayor Jake Woodford, newly elected last month.
“Running for office, in particularly running for mayor, which is an executive leadership position, was a really exciting prospect,” Woodford said.
Nickels and Woodford both ran for office after long-time incumbents who served 20 and 24 years in office respectively, decided to step down.
Nickels, now 33, was just 22 years old at the time. He told all who would listen – his top reason for running.
“We need the next generation to have a voice because every decision made today is going to affect me, it’s going to affect their grandchildren,” said Mayor Nickels.
It was a message that resonated and on election night he won. But as the headline reads, by the slimmest of margins.
“On election night I only won by 15 votes after 10,000 were cast. I clearly did not have a mandate from a vast majority of the citizens,” Nickels recalled.
“The process of running for office is a test, it’s a test,” said Mayor Woodford.
For 29-year old Jake Woodford, while this was his first political campaign, he says his background with a government degree and a senior leadership role at Lawrence University, prepared him for the mayor’s office and the work ahead.
“Connecting to fellow community members, listening to neighbors, creating opportunities to engage with other organizations and entities, these are things that I did in my work at the university,” Woodford.
And when the ballots were finally counted from the April election Woodford received 56 percent of the vote, beating his 62-year old opponent who’d served 20 years on the Appleton Common Council.
“I’ve spent my whole life in Appleton and I really cherish my connection to this community,” he said. “I’ve followed this path in my own life and career, and so this is the next iteration of that for me and it’s been a wonderful experience so far.”
And as Woodford begins his first 4-year term, focusing on the pandemic and what’s next for a proposed library in Appleton’s downtown, Nickels looks ahead to redeveloping the old Mirro plant building site and reaching consensus on best ways to move his city forward.
“I never want to sit in this office and think I have all the right answers by myself,” said Nickels.
A philosophy he’s followed since being first elected at the age of 22.
“In the grand scheme of the city, this is going to be a very short time that I occupy this office. So, each and every day I’ve got to do something good,” Nickels said.