By Katharine Webster
Ryan Hamilton is learning political science on campus – and on the job.
Last fall, the sophomore won an at-large seat on the Methuen City Council. This month, he was sworn in as possibly the youngest councilor in the city’s history. He is 20 years old.
Hamilton ran on a platform of improving infrastructure and being accessible to all of the city’s 50,000 residents.
“I have a bright and shining vision for the future of my city,” he says. “That vision starts off with being held accountable and transparent in showing the citizens of Methuen where their money is going, especially in repairing infrastructure.”
Hamilton says he was always interested in government, but decided to go into politics after taking an advanced placement U.S. Government class during his senior year at Methuen High School. His interest only solidified after he started taking political science classes at the university.
“It was a great time to be following politics because of the 2016 presidential election,” he says. “So I got hooked on it. Plus, I like the whole aspect of public service and community service.”
His extended family got behind his campaign, with many of them putting their lives on hold during the final push from Labor Day through Election Day on Nov. 7. Although none of them had ever sought public office, many had been involved in local political campaigns, and one of his uncles served as his campaign manager.
For the fall semester, Hamilton arranged to take all his classes before 11 a.m. so he could go home to Methuen and campaign in the afternoons. His old friends from high school and new friends on campus helped out, too.
“My friends and family thought it was time to give the Methuen political establishment a run for its money,” he says. “My friends held signs on the weekends and went door-to-door.”
On Campus Support
Hamilton says he got lots of encouragement from his professors in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, especially Patricia Talty, who teaches classes on Congress and the legal system, and Asst. Dean Francis Talty, whose specialty is public policy. They shared some of their observations about political campaigns in Lowell. And after Hamilton won, Patricia Talty brought a cake to class to celebrate.
Hamilton has also enjoyed classes on political psychology, communication and international relations with Assoc. Profs. Morgan Marietta and Joshua Dyck and Visiting Prof. Noel Twagiramungu. Some of the classroom lessons have helped him in practical ways, but he also appreciates the opportunity to step back from the day-to-day of local politics and see the big picture.
“I like the separation. Being able to talk freely on campus is great. We have an exchange of ideas and then we leave it in the classroom, and in the end we’re all friends,” he says.
Hamilton says he became focused on Methuen’s infrastructure needs after taking a tour of the sewer maintenance division of the Public Works Department. He realized the city’s aging sewer system wasn’t getting enough attention, he says.
“It’s something you just don’t see until it’s broken,” he says.
He also wants to help the city develop a GPS-driven app that shows, in real time, the locations of all the city’s school buses. He got the idea from UMass Lowell’s Roadster Routes app, which shows the routes and locations of campus shuttle buses.
“My goal is to prevent kids from having to stand out in the cold for long periods of time and to alert parents when a bus breaks down,” he says.
Most of all, he wants to encourage all of Methuen’s citizens to participate in the political process and work together for the city’s improvement. He says that at Methuen High School, which is very ethnically diverse, all the kids got along. He’d like to carry that spirit into City Hall.
“In a country that’s a political, social and racial tinderbox, Methuen was a great place to grow up and experience such inclusion,” he says.