19-Year Old Republican Demetrius Terry’s Road To Council Candidacy

At 19 years of age, Demetrius Terry isn’t always the youngest speaker during a City Council meeting’s public hearing, when residents, union reps, former pols, and business interests address the municipality’s legislative body, (often) airing concerns or (occasionally) applauding city actions. On some days, in particular when the cause is related to elementary schools, Terry will be a good 10 years older than the youngest speaker. But when it comes to issues of substance, of a concern well beyond the years of most pre-baccalaureate degree holding types – crime, crony-ism, or taxes, not to mention layoffs, government transparency or various other public interest concerns – Terry stands alone as the youngest resident ready and able to address the Council.

But Terry’s interest in politics isn’t the idle speculation of a student curious how governments function – though he is studying political science at Seton Hall University – nor is it simply the acting out of civic responsibility as envisioned by democracy-idealists. Rather, it’s the proactive involvement of a young man with large ambition. Terry, in fact, expects to see his name in print next year, and not just in the newspaper. If all goes according to plan, his name will be in the same column as current Ward A Councilman Michael Sottolano’s on next year’s City Council ballot. At the time of the election, Terry will be 20, seven years younger than Ward E Councilman Steve Fulop was when he was first elected. He’ll also be running as a Republican, a rarity in the heavily-Democratic leaning city.

“You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to sit on the council,” said Terry. “What the council in Jersey City needs is some new fresh young blood. I will bring new fiscal ideas to the table and solutions to problems facing our community everyday: crime, education and taxes.”

He looks to answer the question, “Where are our elected leaders? There have been many times I’ve talked to residents in Greenville and they have no clue [who] their councilperson is.”

Although now firmly in the GOP camp, Terry, the chairman of the Hudson County Teenage Republicans, took a roundabout route to his conservative leanings, one that has seen him make an about-face from his one-time political inspiration, President Barack Obama. And yet, like many of the president’s audiences during his 2008 campaign, Terry cites hearing Obama speak at St. Peter’s College on January 11, 2008 as the reason he got involved in politics.

“From that evening on, I knew public service was destined for me,” he says. “I was very intrigued by the way he spoke and the vision he had for the United States of America. During the time, I really had no clue what politics was about but I knew I wanted to get involved.”

At first Terry thought the Democratic party’s interests aligned with his own, and he joined the Hudson County Democratic Organization to help Obama’s campaign. But like some erstwhile ardent Obama supporters, the years that followed his election – when no simple fix for our ailing economy appeared, with economists split (and still split) over the size of the bailout (if not the necessity), with a massive national debt compiling, and continuing trouble in the global financial market – Terry’s infatuation with the president faded.

“I’m very disappointed by President Obama,” says Terry. “If you just look at his spending record and the economy, how can anyone really be happy with a President like that?”

From this disappointment, he looked to the 2009 gubernatorial race here in New Jersey, and saw that Republicans “stand for lower taxes, less government, less regulations, school choice and fiscal responsibility. All of those characteristics what something I believed morally in.” He says he’s found these values at the state level in Governor Chris Christie, and then nationally in Mitt Romney as he continues to establish himself as the so-called inevitable candidate in the Republican primaries.

While Terry says he has “respect” for Sottolano, presumably his biggest challenger come 2013, it comes down to the need for new points-of-view. He recently wrote a letter to JCI expressing disappointment with Ward F Councilwoman Michele Massey’s recent decision to vote against ousting Council President Brennan from his leadership position.

In the time until the election, Terry will continue to make appearances at Council meetings and posting on Facebook’s Political Insider page – a Jersey City-centric, keep-in-the-know forum for activist-residents – and to work as a part-time model at Hollister Co. at Newport Mall in Jersey City.

Whatever his political fate, Terry says he hopes to inspire the area’s youth by becoming “the biggest advocate for the youth in my ward. The youth are our leaders for tomorrow and they need to know there is someone out there who cares for them,” he said.

In a city of old-hands and so-called political machines, Terry’s candidacy is a hopeful sign for youthful Americans too often described as disaffected no matter one’s political affiliation.

Photo Courtesy Demetrius Terry

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.