Recent AU Grad Finds Purpose in First Run for Office
Ryan Migeed | 1/16/15 4:15pm
| Updated 1/16/15 4:15pm
“For every meeting I walked into, the person on the other side of the table immediately doubted my capabilities,” said Steve Meyer, a recent American University graduate who ran for the New York State Assembly this year. For Meyer, his youth was a considerable barrier. And it painted a target on his back.
“Age was the primary target in my opponent’s attack ads,” Meyer said. His opponent, Republican Raymond Walter, a three-year incumbent in the seat, even used Meyer’s eighth grade yearbook photo in a mailer sent to every voter in the district.
“Everyone assumes that the [older] candidate is competent just because they have a few gray hairs and a family,” Meyer explained.
When Meyer talked to voters, however, his age was not only accepted, but became an advantage.
“My youth motivated a lot of people,” he said. “Nearly every door I knocked on, the voter at the door said, ‘This is great. We need some new blood in government!’”
At 22, Meyer would have been the youngest New York State Assemblyman in history. His age, Meyer says, proves he is “uncorrupted.”
Both in interviews and at voters’ doors, Meyer quickly pivots to opponent Raymond Walter’s voting record. He assails the incumbent’s stance on abortion, arguing that Walter opposes women’s rights because he opposes late-term abortions.
He also attacks Walter’s stance on guns because the incumbent voted against the SAFE Act, New York’s gun control law banning high-capacity magazines, requiring background checks, and creating a registry of assault weapons.
But Meyer did not enter the race just to remove his opponent from office. Two things influenced his decision to enter the race, he says. First, as an extraordinarily young candidate, he realized he had nothing to lose by running and might as well have tried to make a difference before the unpredictability of life altered his ability to seek elected office.
Second, Meyer said, he has “a profound love for Western New York.” He sees a lot of potential in Buffalo, but not enough proactive leadership in the State House.
Politicians think reactively, he said. “They see a mistake in the past and try to fix it. I decided to run because I believe that we need proactive, progressive representation.”
Meyer’s two major objectives were the reformation of the state ethics code and the implementation of campaign finance reform legislation.
Surprisingly, the AU community – the same one that largely embraced the young Barack Obama in 2008 – did not give him much support.
Although his parents took time off work to make phone calls, people at AU were “kind of critical” of his decision to run, he says. He attributes this to AU students’ competitiveness.
AU alumni in New York, however, provided invaluable support. Meyer met alumni on the campaign trail – even some who were New York State officials – and this connection “went a long way,” he said.
What’s next for Meyer? He began planning for this election back in spring 2013, but for now, he does not have plans to run for office again. Instead, the former candidate will stay in Western New York for the time being, working for the betterment of his community.
Meyer also urges young people to get involved in politics. One of the reasons for low turnout among young people, he believes, is that it’s hard for young people to connect to older candidates.
“We need to come up with some ingenious way of proving to young people that they are the ones who decide our future,” he said.
Finally, Meyer had a few words of encouragement for young politicos who may want to run for office: “It is also very easy to prove [voters] wrong if you’re confident, hard working and passionate.”