Nineteen-year-old Mayor Brandon Paulin is talking with two young men on bicycles in Indian Head, Maryland, about his plans to jump-start business in the small town of 4,000. Both men are unemployed and hope the boarded-up storefronts will be reopened.
As Bryan Lyles, 26, shook hands with Paulin, he said, “I think it’s awesome to have a young mayor.”
Paulin is the youngest mayor in Maryland's history. Fifty years younger than his predecessor, he was sworn in this week as the new mayor of Indian Head, and he swears his first priority is to bring business back to the town, a 2.5-kilometer-long strip of land between two scenic rivers. The town ends at a U.S. naval base, and the busy highway in the city’s center stretches north toward Washington, D.C., about an hour’s drive away.
Indian Head is a mixture of small businesses, older homes on attractive, tree-lined side streets, and newer condos and townhouses along the highway. But on the way into town, the highway passes the remnants of local businesses that closed because of competition from shopping centers in a nearby larger city.
Paulin said that when some people drive into town and see the decaying buildings, they just turn around and leave.
He hopes to change that and return Indian Head to what it used to be — a charming, thriving place with natural beauty where people want to live and visit. “Many, many years ago, Indian Head was a booming town, and that’s what I want to get back," he said. “I want to entice businesses as much as I can, using business incentives.”
The owners of the dilapidated buildings, who don’t live in Indian Head, are part of the problem, Paulin said, because they get tax write-offs for their vacant properties. He wants to implement a program that discourages them from leaving their buildings empty.
When a building sits vacant, “a fee would be imposed and increased each year,” he explained. “That way it becomes less cost-effective for them, and it motivates them to get a business in there.”
Kelly Murphy, owner of a local nutrition store, has gotten to know Paulin, who comes in regularly to get his favorite smoothie. She’s has confidence in the young mayor. “His age doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I know he’s excited, and I feel when people get around him, we feel excited again. We’ve lost that for many years in this town.”
The mayor’s mother, Wendy Paulin, said her son has the perseverance to move the town forward. “He doesn’t back down from a challenge,” she explained. “When he sees problems, he tries to come up with solutions for them.”
Paulin got his first taste of city politics at age 10, when he pushed town officials to put in state-required pedestrian crosswalk signs — and won. “So I’ve always been involved since then, and going to a bunch of town meetings, and I decided it was time to take the step up,” he said.
Paulin’s salary is only $6,000 a year. He’s living at home and taking college classes online. He can run a city, but can't buy alcohol, since Maryland’s drinking age is 21.
Several 19- and 18-year-olds have been elected mayors in U.S. small towns over the years. But the record was set in 2012, when 3-year-old Bobby Tufts became mayor of Dorset, Minnesota, after his name was picked out of a hat. Each year, the town of about 25 people picks a new name. But, thankfully, it’s symbolic, since Dorset has no formal government.