Youth Workers in the Mix on Election Day

A few youth workers and advocates may find themselves holding new positions within government following the November 2nd elections. A handful of local, state, and congressional races feature both candidates and senior advisors who’ve previously held posts in education, social work, and youth advocacy.


Margaret Brodkin (D), self-proclaimed “leader of the San Francisco children’s movement,” is seeking a spot on that city’s school board. Brodkin has a long history of direct advocacy work with and behalf of children, serving as director of Coleman Advocates for Children from 1978 through 2004, and as Director of the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth, and Families from 2004 through 2009. Endorsed by both the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Brodkin is thought of by some to be too controversial to hold a post on the school board, and has battled to some degree with Gavin Newsom’s mayoral administration. She’s running for the seat left open by President Jane Kim, who’s running to succeed San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly.

San Francisco also brings us the candidacy of juvenile and criminal justice researcher David Onek (D), who once served as the Golden Gate City’s Police Commissioner. He’s hoping to fill the seat of current District Attorney Kamala Harris, herself running for Attorney General. Harris is locked in a tight race, but provided she wins on Tuesday, her spot is to be filled by appointment by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is running for Lt. Governor on Democrat Jerry Brown’s ticket.

Onek is currently the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice at University of California-Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, and earlier this year was discussed by the Obama administration as a candidate to lead the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the Justice Department. He’s married to Kara Dukakis, the daughter of Michael Dukakis, former presidential Nominee and Governor of Massachusetts.


Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) looks to become the next Governor of Colorado. Polls have consistently shown Hickenlooper leading Republican businessman Dan Maes and former Republican Congressman (and now American Constitution Party Candidate) Tom Tancredo in that race. If elected to the Governor’s office, Hickenlooper’s chief-of-staff, Roxanne White, may herself move to the State Capitol. White was previously the head of Denver’s Human Services division, as well as executive director of the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation, which provides funding for human services programming. Before that, White was for eight years the CEO of Urban Peak, providing services to runaway and homeless youth in the Denver-Metro area. Sources say it’s unclear whether or not White will keep her title if she moves under Denver’s gold dome, but many believe she’ll continue to play a large part in a Hickenlooper administration.

The current governor, Bill Ritter (D) also had a significant youth advocate on his team: Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, who spent the 16 years before teaming up with Ritter as president of the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Former Hickenlooper chief-of-staff, Michael Bennet (D), is fighting neck and neck with Weld County DA Ken Buck to keep his Senate seat. Bennet, formerly Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, was appointed to fill the remainder of Ken Salazar’s term as US Senator when Salazar moved to the Department of the Interior. During his time as superintendent, Bennet revised a merit pay proposal that largely earned the support of local teachers. His name was also floated for the position of Secretary of Education in the Obama administration.


In Oklahoma, James Lankford (R), a Christian youth camp director, won the Republican nomination for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District against State Representative Kevin Calvey. Lankford will face Democratic nominee Billy Coyle on Tuesday in the campaign to replace incumbent Mary Fallin, who’s running for Governor. Lankford was previously the director of the Falls Creek Baptist Youth Camp from 1996 through 2009. Falls Creek is one of the largest of such camps in the entire country; 51,000 kids attended last year.

Washington, D.C.

City Council Chairman Vince Gray (D) is expected to win his campaign for mayor after locking up the Democratic nomination from incumbent Adrian Fenty in September. Gray started his political career as an advocate with the DC Association for Retarded Citizens. He was appointed by then Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly to the post of Director of the D.C. Department of Human Services in 1991. In December of 1994, Gray became the executive director of Covenant House Washington and, over a ten-year span, developed the agency into a multisite support system for homeless youth in DC’s Southeast and Northeast communities. 

During his time as city council chairman, Gray hosted monthly “youth hearings,” where you had to be under 18 to participate.

Know of any other youth workers running for office this year? Let us know!


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