When many Washingtonians hear the words “Ward 8” and “teenagers,” they think of crime. Delinquency. Hopelessness.
To them I say: Meet Markus Batchelor.
Batchelor, of Congress Heights, is the executive director of a nonprofit organization called Teenocracy. He is the deputy campaign manager for Nate Bennett-Fleming’s campaign for shadow representative. He hosts an Internet radio talk show.
He’s 17 years old.
Batchelor got interested in politics during the tumultuous 2000 presidential campaign. He recalls using crayons and scrap paper to make a Gore 2000 sign. From there, his interest grew. He served as student body president at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School before he went citywide. He currently serves as D.C. Youth Mayor.
The Youth Mayor, elected annually, “is a young person elected to express the views on youth to our city leaders,” Batchelor told me. “The youth mayor is a very public figure and I have made it a priority to be very visible with the mayor, our Council chairman, members of the Council, and candidates in this year’s election.”
Last year, he founded Teenocracy, which is intended to educate D.C. teenagers about politics and government and provide a forum for discussion. Batchelor believes that “a deep misunderstanding and pleasant ignorance to politics, political beliefs and government operations” have led to “political extremism” in the District that holds the city back.
“It started with a group of four or five of my closest friends getting together to talk about politics and current events in a local restaurant or coffee shop for a few hours,” he said. He later expanded the idea and created a formal organization that has co-sponsored candidate forums and performed community service. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Councilmember Kwame Brown, and Colorado U.S. Rep. Jared Polis have signed on as honorary co-chairs.
He met Bennett-Fleming -- who is just 8 years older than him -- at a campaign event in March, and volunteered for his campaign. Batchelor has nothing bad to say about current Shadow Rep. Mike Panetta, who Bennett-Fleming is challenging in next week’s Democratic primary, but said he was “was impressed with the type of passion and dedication Nate brought” to the push for D.C. voting rights and statehood.
Batchelor also has a favorite in the race for mayor, but he’s keeping it to himself. “I definitely do have a preferred candidate in this race,” he said. "However, as Youth Mayor, I don’t feel that it is my place, especially as a representative of all D.C. youth, to make my personal opinions public.”
Nikki Peele, who blogs as The Advoc8te at Congress Heights on the Rise, told me, “I fondly recall my first meeting with Markus Batchelor. I was working on the Charles Wilson for Ward 8 City Council campaign and here comes this enthusiastic, well-spoken, and almost too mature for his age young man -- wearing a tie no less -- and he was volunteering with us. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Wow, how many 16 year olds would spend their free time pounding the pavement for a political campaign?’”
Batchelor says he plans to have his own name “on a local ballot sometime very soon, possibly even as soon as 2012,” and would like to sit on the D.C. Council by the end of the decade. “I definitely want to be mayor of the District at some point,” he said. “The city definitely needs good leadership and if I get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be chosen to serve, I will not hesitate to jump in.”
He already has at least one backer. Peele, who profiled Batchelor on her blog earlier this year, told me, “I always tell Markus that while he may be too young for office now, he definitely has my vote when the time comes.”