May 20, 2004
Valdosta-- An amazing young man re-writes political history in Valdosta. He did it the hard way, taking on a political veteran and three others at the same time.
John Eunice looks and acts like a natural politician, quick to shake hands and make conversation. "I call what I do public service," says the new city councilman, from his office at his grandparents' home.
Some would call his election a miracle, running for the at-large council seat that represents the town of 29,894 voters. It seemed like a long shot, an 18 year-old high school senior running for Valdosta city's council.
At a press conference to announce his candidacy, the question of his age came up. "I think my age is going to be a plus for me," says John. He was 18 years old. "The first time I voted, I voted for myself," says John.
Why would a teenager run for elected office usually reserved for candidates much older than he is? "I felt we needed someone with a fresh perspective," says John.
Voters agreed. In the general election he had just 63 fewer votes than the incumbent who had held the at-large seat for almost six years and was a former mayor. John had another chance to win in a run-off three weeks after the general election.
To the surprise of many, John Eunice got 61% of the vote to the incumbent's 39%, a strong statement that voters wanted a change, a young change. Jim Tunison, a downtown businessman, advised and voted for Eunice who is young enough to be his grandson. "He's very mature in his thinking. He thinks quick and does things quick," says Tunison.
John credits students at Valdosta State University for helping him win, but it wasn't automatic support. He had to earn their votes. "I had to prove myself to VSU students. They were tough on me and I had to prove myself to them," says John who credits their votes for making such a political difference. "I will be forever grateful to students who turned out in mass to vote for me. They played a huge part in my election," says John.
His city council win makes him the youngest councilman since Valdosta was incorporated in 1860, the youngest councilman in Georgia, and quite possibly the youngest councilman in the nation. Meeting with people takes a huge part of his time, deciding to take the month of May to learn more about the City and its issues. He dropped by the local arts center to welcome members of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism, and unlike some other long-winded politicians, his remarks were rather short. "Welcome to the area. Hope you enjoy your stay," said John.
People feel comfortable with the political teenager, wanting his time and complimenting him on his work. Then, he was off to a telecommunications advisory committee meeting to hear its recommendations about a $32 million project. Should the City of Valdosta get into the cable TV and high speed Internet business?
He wanted to learn all he could about the idea since he would vote on its fate in a few weeks. He had more to learn, studying the City's 545 page budget, because he would vote on how the City would spend $75 million in a few weeks, as well.
Some voters see a promising political future for him. "I can see a higher office right away, the type of charisma to move to the top such as Governor, President, and Vice President. I just see him doing something very wonderful," says Adann-Kennn Alexxandar, curator of the art center.
John doesn't know for sure about his future political opportunities, hedging his answer as a veteran politician would. "If an opportunity presents itself, of course, I'm not going to rule it out. That's so many years away," says John.
It's hard to remember John Eunice is a college freshman, but it won't be hard to remember him when he makes it big in whatever he chooses.
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