Editor’s Note: This week’s Top Hat was guest written by Anasha Cummings ’12, who currently chairs the Advocacy, Community & Advancement Committee.
If you have been off campus much in the past few months, you have probably seen all of the politcal campaign signs. Like one friend, you may have even had your landlord place a sign on your lawn. If you are like most students, however, you probably ignore all of this silliness. Politics are often petty and usually a waste of time. Well, in this article, I would like to encourage you to pay attention by outlining how local politics works, why it is worth paying attention to, and how you can get involved.
Troy city politics, at the basic level, are pretty easy to understand. There is a mayor, elected every four years, and a council, elected every two years. The council consists of nine members: three city-wide and six district members. There are three districts which significantly impact students at RPI: District 3, which includes Beman Park, everything east (uphill) of Burdett Ave., and the E-Complex; District 4, which includes downtown Troy, Blitman Commons, main campus, and Freshman Hill; and District 5, which includes Little Italy/Washington Park, Polytech Apartments, and Pawling Ave.
There are also political parties, each of which nominate candidates for most of the elected positions, but for our purposes, they really don’t matter much. All of the candidates are real people, eager to meet and interact with students. From my experience, politics really washes away when you greet them as an interested student. All of the candidates want to talk to you because they see RPI as an important community member and the students as having a high potential for impacting the city.
Now that you have some understanding of how Troy politics works, why should you pay attention to it? First of all, if you live off campus, you are indirectly paying property taxes—in Troy, these can be pretty high. Beyond this, one of the primary reasons cited for why students do not go off campus is for their own public safety. How are we going to get the local government to invest in keeping us safe if we aren’t engaged? Honestly, we aren’t. In fact, recently, they have spent more time and energy in breaking up parties as many of our fraternities can attest to. Finally, local politicans are the people who are planning for the future of Troy. This is a future which could include real jobs for students like us with valuable technological skills.
So, what impact could you, as an individual, have? First of all, the District 4 city council seat, which I discussed earlier, is typically chosen by 450 voters. Well over 2,000 RPI students live in that district; just the residents of Blitman could swing the election. Therefore, if students registered to vote here in Troy (which they are allowed to as long as they are U.S. Citizens and over 18), they could have a very serious impact.
Because of this, Troy politicians really do have to pay attention to us, but, once we have their attention, what should we do with it? I believe that RPI, and particularly the student body, truly has the power to bring Troy together around some key issues: such as entrepreneurship, sustainability, and technological innovation. This could help the economic development of Troy but, beyond that, would lead to a much more vibrant city. Finally, if we partner with Troy and get engaged, we can help the city planner and decision makers shape a city which is fun and safe for us to spend our time in.
Just imagine in the coming years, Troy could be a vibrant college town, where students have real opportunities to get involved and even get jobs that utilize our unique skills as we move out into our careers.
I hope you see that the process here in Troy is relatively understandable; our lives really are impacted by local politics; and that it is worth paying attention to and getting involved with. I will finish this article with three opportunities for you to get involved: first, the Student Senate’s Advocacy, Community, & Advancement Committee is always looking for people who would like to help drive this vision forward. Please contact email@example.com with questions or to get involved. Second, register to vote. It is too late to register for this election, but keep in mind that you can register here in upcoming elections. Finally, regardless of where you are registered, Troy City Council and mayoral candidates want to hear from you. The ACAC is hosting a candidate forum in Mother’s in the Union on Wednesday, October 26, from 6–8 pm. Please be sure to attend and bring some friends and questions along.