What does it take to pop the Vassar bubble? How about running for elected office?
Seth Warner ’14 is campaigning to be Legislator for Dutchess County’s Sixth District, which includes parts of Vassar. Democratic nominee Warner is up against three-term incumbent Republican Angela Flesland in the Nov. 5 elections.
Warner, a political science major, described his decision to seek office as one of giving back to the community that had supported him during his education.
Said Warner, “I realized Poughkeepsie had invested in me, and if I were going to be honest I ought to invest something back into Poughkeepsie. I ought to do something to do the best I could and running for office makes sense.”
The race will be close, and Warner believes he he has a shot at winning.
A local election like the one for County Legislator typically sees a low turnout of under 2,000. Warner’s opponent Angela Flesland won her seat in 2007 by only a little over 70 votes.
“Given the low turnout, it’s a toss-up. And I like those odds,” said Adam Eichen ‘15, a campaign organizer for Warner.
Alexis Grems ’14, another campaign organizer, said the their goal is to get 200 students registered and to the polls on election day to vote for Warner. They hope this will be enough to swing the vote and win the District Seat. Warner’s campaign acknowledges that producing that level of turnout among Vassar students would not be easy. “It’s going to be really tough, but we do have a chance,” said Grems.
Political redistricting, or gerrymandering, has split Vassar’s campus and its predominantly liberal vote into three separate county districts. The parts of Vassar included in Warner’s district are Noyes House, Cushing House, the Terrace Apartments and the South Commons. Only students living in those houses would be able to vote for Sixth District legislator in November.
And although most students are registered to vote, not all are registered locally. Eichen described how sometimes, while canvasing, students will tell him they would rather stay registered in their home state and vote there.
Eichen tells them this: “You can re-register when the presidential election comes, but until then what are you doing registered in Ohio because you’re not voting in your local election? You should register here. Make an impact here.”
Grems explained that their campaign is also trying to introduce students to Warner and his message through different campus organizations. Warner has reached out to the Vassar Democrats, the Vassar Prison Initiative, the Vassar Christian Fellowship, and the Vassar Greens.
Warner became interested in politics when he was in high school. Originally from Southbury, Conn., Warner said that when he got to Vassar he soon became close to the community.
“I kind of got to know Poughkeepsie by getting to know its future, teaching at the high school there,“ said Warner, who in his freshmen volunteered tutoring math to Poughkeepsie students preparing for their SATs.
Today, Warner lives off campus and is a member of the First Congregational Church. He said he has stayed in Poughkeepsie every summer since arriving, often working for political campaigns and advocacy. “After that it felt like Poughkeepsie was more home than not,” said Warner.
With his experience living in Poughkeepsie and working with the Democratic Party in local races, Warner felt it was time for him to take the next step, and in the past March he decided to enter the race to become the next Sixth District Dutchess County Legislator.
“Looking at all of my skills looking at all the opportunities that were before me, running for office made sense because that would be a way that I could serve,” said Warner.
Warner gained the nominations of three different political parties: Democratic, Working Families, and the Green party.
The campaign’s biggest issue in Warner’s eyes is the proposed expansion of the county jail. The project would expand he county jail’s inmate capacity, preparing it for the projected point in twenty years when it will reach its maximum capacity. The construction is estimated to cost between $150-200 million dollars. His opponent, Ms. Flesland supports the expansion. Warner does not.
“A good society is one that seeks to incarcerate fewer people. And ultimately, in my opinion, it would be saving tax payers a lot of money it would be doing the right thing morally if we focused more on reform and less on incarceration,” said Warner. He believes that opposition to the expansion could be what pulls him ahead in the race
As for his young age, Warner said it hasn’t been an issue. Dutchess County’s Sixth District has seen young competitors before. The incumbent Ms. Flesland became legislator of the 6 District when she was only 21, the same age Warner is now
He said, “I think voter’s like the idea of having candidate with a future in front of them because that means if they elect that candidate they are endorsing a Poughkeepsie with its future in front of it.”