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American Teenager Is Both Student and Mayor

In a town near the city of Detroit in the midwestern state of Michigan, an 18-year-old high-school student is the mayor. And that probably makes him the youngest mayor in the country. VOA's Liu Enming produced the story, which is narrated by Elaine Lu.

Hillsdale, a town in southern Michigan with 9,000 residents, has lost many jobs to outsourcing. And that is what prompted teenager Michael Sessions to seek a new job -- as mayor. Going door-to-door and financing his campaign with $700 from his summer job, Sessions won the election last November by a margin of two votes.

Megan Shore was part of Session's campaign team.

"At first, we all thought he was kind of joking around, just doing it for fun, but then he got really serious about it and put some money aside for it and everything," said Shore.

Doug Ingles, who was the incumbent mayor, runs a roller skating rink. He says he did not mind losing to someone so young and inexperienced.

"Michael Sessions has the support of the community. He has the support of me. He will be very successful and our community will move forward," noted the former mayor.

Many people in the town feel it is time for some new energy and fresh ideas. "Change can be good," said Enid Frash, the manager of a local grocery store. "The other mayor, maybe he was doing a good job, but people do like to see change," continued Frash. "People get to the point where they feel that issues are not being addressed. That's why I think Michael has his opportunity."

One of Sessions' campaign platforms was to bring jobs back to Hillsdale.

"We have got to bring jobs here. That's the number one thing," stressed Sessions. "I know what it is like to have a crunch back at home, because I experience it. My father, he lost his job."

Sessions pointed out the town's commercial landmarks during a driving tour of Hillsdale. "That's the glue factory... they put glue into bottles. Right here we are losing the corporation Eagle Picher, Hillsdale Tools. They just move into the Detroit area," he said.

He says businesses are leaving Hillsdale for financial reasons.

"Part of the reason is because they want (to pay) lower wages," Sessions noted. "They (companies) have been here so long, now they’re paying their people a lot of money to actually work there."

The job of mayor pays $3,000 a year, and Sessions has no office. In addition, he also needs to juggle being a student and an elected official. "I think I am doing a good job with both. They both go hand in hand. I look at the mayor job as a job equivalent to, say, one of my friends having after-school activity," Sessions said.

Sessions has always been a political junkie. He registered to vote one day after his birthday, and entered the mayoral race as a write-in candidate the next day.

His mother, Lori, has an understandably biased opinion of Michael's work. "We were really proud of him," said the mayor's mother. "He has spent a lot of time in it, so it doesn't surprise me that he's doing a great job."

Sessions hopes his election will be an inspiration to other youth. "I think the biggest message throughout of all this is that young people can make a difference," he stressed. "They should be taken seriously."

Michael Sessions is taken seriously. He is the young man everyone calls 'Your Honor.'