Saturday, January 16, 2016

Being hungry is harder than being Mayor

Svante Myrick calls it "juggling pain." When he was a baby, he spent weeks in homeless shelters with his Mom, Leslie, and three siblings. Eventually they settled near his grandparents in rural Earlville, NY, where Leslie worked day and night shifts at a variety of jobs. She also helped her kids get to and from after-school jobs and sports practices. They often ate in the car. Thanks to government help including Medicaid, WIC, free school lunches and food stamps, they survived. While in school, the Myrick kids worked at the gas station, library and grocery store. They were mixed race children -- their Mom was white and their Dad, who became addicted to drugs, was black. In high school, Svante's grandmother gave him a book, "Dreams from My Father" by Barak Obama. Svante could relate to the author, who also had no father, two races, a driven mother and teenage confusion. "It changed the way I viewed myself," Svante said.

When Svante took his SATs, his score was so high few could believe it. Teachers suggested he apply to Cornell and he was accepted, but the campus seemed full of brusque people. "In Earlville you knew everyone," Svante explained. Then he learned of a Cornell program that matched students with kids in Ithaca who needed tutors. Svante said it felt like home again. He became friends with a City Alderman, who decided not to run for reelection and urged Svante to run in his place. So, during his junior year at Cornell, he became City Alderman for the Fourth Ward while working part time as a bartender to pay tuition. He graduated from Cornell almost debt free, whittling about $220,000 of debt down to $15,000. In 2011, the 24-year-old was elected Mayor of Ithaca. During his first term, he closed a $3 million budget deficit, and in 2015 he was re-elected with 89% of the vote. He modestly insists, "I am a product of a grand conspiracy that conspired to make me successful. Success is community success. There is no other kind." His future plans are still uncertain, since he cannot run for state office until he's 30. But he may have dropped a hint back in high school, when he told a favorite teacher, "When I become President, I'll make you Secretary of Education."

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