TAMPA – In many ways, 19-year-old Asher Edelson is a typical college freshman who plays video games, lives with his parents and attends classes on Hillsborough Community College’s Ybor City campus.
But in addition to studying for political science and algebra exams, Edelson is doing something that sets him apart from his peers – running for office.
He is one of nine candidates in the nonpartisan Hillsborough County School Board District 6 race. He filed to enter the competition for the countywide seat in early November. It is being vacated by April Griffin, who announced last week she will not seek re-election to a third term.
“I think the voters of Hillsborough County are owed the option to vote for someone outside of the status quo,” Edelson said. “It’s important to have all different perspectives talking about the issues. I think that if people are given the option to vote for a student, they will.”
School board members hold four-year terms and make an annual salary of $40,932. They must be registered to vote in Hillsborough County.
Born in Atlanta, Edelson moved to Tampa with his family at age 3. He attended Hillsborough schools – Dale Mabry Elementary, Coleman Middle and Plant High. He graduated from Plant in 2012, the year he voted for the first time.
He’s not a taxpayer yet, but he still has a vested interest in the county’s public school system – his 12-year-old sister, Lilly, is a seventh-grader at Coleman.
A registered Democrat, he decided to run for the school board seat because he wants to find a way to bring more locally grown, organic foods to Hillsborough cafeterias. He remembers mostly unhealthy foods such as chicken nuggets, pizza and French fries offered at school growing up.
“When you’re talking about student productivity, you can’t have that conversation without addressing what we’re choosing to feed them,” he said. “I understand some students cannot afford to bring lunch to school. It’s those kids that I’m fighting for.”
He plans to speak to local farmers about how much it would cost to bring more local foods to school meals.
He also aims to reach out to voters by knocking on doors and through social media to see what the biggest issues are for them.
In high school, Edelson served as vice president of unity and executive vice president for Plant’s Student Advisory Committee. His senior year, he was a member of the school’s Youth in Government Club. He also played percussion in the school band and spent summers in Spain as a mentor for Spanish teens.
Edelson knows it’s going to be a tough race, but he’s up for the challenge.
At age 7, he was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary and repetitive motor and vocal tics. Even though he still struggles with the condition, it has not stopped him from achieving his goals.
At age 12, he wrote and published a fiction novel called “Adventure Land: The Strike of Lightning.” By age 14, a sequel was published. He started speaking at Tourette Syndrome Association events about overcoming adversity. In 2008, he appeared on “The Doctors,” a nationally televised talk show.
The others running in the District 6 race are Charles Brink, John Evon, Alison McGillivray Fernandez, Stacy Hahn, Paula Meckley, Russ Patterson, Dipa Shah and Randy Toler.
According to the most recent candidate financials, Brink has the most money in his coffers, with $65,000 in the form of a loan to himself. Shah has raised $33,382.
Edelson has raised some money in the short time since he entered the race, but would not disclose the amount.
Toler, 57, said younger candidates bring a fresh perspective to local government. His wife, Alicia Toler, ran for a city alderman seat in Aurora, Ill. at age 20. Even though her campaign was unsuccessful, she brought in 20 percent of the vote.
Toler, who is focusing his campaign on a need for more career and technical education, agrees that making sure the school district is doing everything it can to offer the healthiest options possible is important, too.
“We need to talk about these issues that are important to younger people,” Toler said.
Shah, 42, commended Edelson for joining the race.
“It’s fantastic,” said Shah, an attorney and mother of two. “He really will be able to inspire our youth and that’s phenomenal.”