Councilman wants teenagers on community boards

The borough’s youngest City Councilmember is pushing community boards across the city to think young.

Ritchie Torres, the 25-year-old elected representing the central Bronx, wants the boards—neighborhood’s first line of defense on a myriad of issues including land-use changes and liquor license approvals— to appoint at least one 16- or 17-year-old member.

“As a 16 year old you can do work, pay taxes. In many ways you’re already an adult,” said Torres. “If we are going to encourage young people to be civically engaged, how can we not allow them a chance to serve on their local board?”

Input on young issues

Torres is one of the main sponsors of a Council resolution in support of a proposed state law that would lower the minimum age of a community board member from 18 down to 16. Adding a younger voice on the board would give communities a more diverse set of opinions, said Torres. It would also give young people a larger say on issues that matter to them.

“One of the bigger issues right now is education,” he said, “and no one is more affected by education than young people.”

The movement for teenagers on community boards has picked up political momentum in the last few weeks. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is among those spearheading the proposal.

But for Torres, the push is personal. He says he was inspired to go into politics as a 16-year-old Lehman High School junior, when he served as “district manager for a day” at Community Board 10 – which serves the easternmost slice of the borough – learning the ins and outs of local politics from his mentor, Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who was district manager at the time.

“I learned more about the inner workings of civic government in that one day,” said Torres, “than I had in all of my years of schooling.”

Board 10: concerned

But John Marano, current chairman of Board 10, said he’s skeptical about having 16-year-olds on community boards.

“These kids are already studying, already in school,” said Marano. “Do they really have the time to give the same effort and time commitment as our other members do?”

Marano added that 16- and 17-year-olds are already free to pop into the board’s district office or attend a public meeting anytime to learn the ways of civic government.

Board 10 is composed mainly of retirees who serve as volunteers. Let alone teenagers, he noted that there’s no member on his board younger than at least 30.

But Marano says his board is already diverse enough.

“We have business owners, electricians, steam fitters,” he said, “People from all of the different neighborhoods.”

Torres said having at least one teenager on the board can only help – especially on each board’s youth committee, which is meant to handle issues affecting young people.

“How can there be a youth committee,” he asked,” “and yet not have anybody young on that committee?”

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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