Alex Burton, 30
When Alex Burton interned for Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, he had dreams of working on the Hill. But a mentor convinced him that he could do more impactful work in his hometown than in DC. Not long after, Alex Burton ran for city council in Evansville, Indiana, becoming the youngest and the first person of color in roughly 40 years to run for anything city-wide. He's aspiring to change the mindset on in his city government and create a new vision for his hometown.
What was the best advice you received before you ran for office?
When did the light bulb going off? When did you realize you wanted to run for office?
In 2010, I interned for the mayor at the time who was Jonathan Weinzapfel. They were working on redeveloping downtown. It was going in a new direction - new arena, new hotel.
Then, I moved back home in 2013. The arena was built, but no hotel. And the talk of the town was this hotel we were supposed to get, which would have a rooftop bar, indoor-outdoor swimming pool, which would just really be transformational for our downtown area. And we ended up with a six story hotel, no rooftop bar and outdoor swimming pool and it really didn't capture all that it could have been. More value could have been added to downtown than what actually was. I love telling this story because it is what happens far too often. Big ideas get watered down.
My background is in public policy. I interned on the Hill and taught introductory Political Science courses, and I have a Master's in Public Administration. All of that came into my decision to run for office. I literally thought, "Okay, if this is the best city leadership has to offer, I need to get involved." And so then I started meeting with people and having the conversation. That was the first time I ran city wide in 2015.
I was the youngest and the first person of color in around 40 years to run for anything city-wide in the city's history. The last person of color to do it was in the 70s and he ran as a Republican. And I won the primary easily, but lost of the general. After that I went back to being involved with community. This time around I'm running for the Fourth Ward, which is the strongest Democratic area of the city. It was held by my predecessor, who has been in office for about 24 years.
What are the potholes in your city? What are the issues you feel are being neglected and you want to see addressed in your community?
Education is a big one, partly because I work for the school system so my perspective has possibly become biased. Our school system is doing amazing work, but I’m unsure if the proper supports from our area nonprofits are aduately filling the gaps for our students who need the most services. Jobs, street repair, housing and the basics that ultimately enhance our quality of life I feel could all be improved. Our city has a history of just doing the status quo, not really thinking big out of the picture, or planning for the future in a comprehensive way. And I believe that is in the way of our growth.
Who have been your greatest mentors?
“I wouldn't have been able to do any of this if I would have been on the Hill. I'm really connected to my community and Evansville is exactly where I want to be at this moment.”
My predecessor, Connie Robinson and Shelley Davis. Mrs. Connie is the “Queen” of Democratic politics in Evansville, IN and it has been a joy to learn under her. Shelley was Yvette Clarke's Chief of Staff, one of the Members of Congress I interned under. I mentioned him because when I was still interning,he said to me, “Alex, you're going to hate me for this. But I'm not letting you work on the Hill. You can go back to your community and make way more of an impact than what you could if you came to work on the Hill.” Hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back, he was he was right. Through my role at Old National Bank and in my job at the school corporation, I've been able to do so much and add value to my community and develop programs. I wouldn't have been able to do any of this if I would have been on the Hill. I'm really connected to my community and Evansville is exactly where I want to be at this moment.
How do you stay grounded in your community and what’s going on locally?
I'd say just doing the things that I would if I was still in high school, not necessarily activities, but it's going to the barbershop. It’s going to church. Supporting my fraternity and talking with my neighbors. It's a whole lot of things that go on to make sure I don't lose touch with the people I'm seeking to represent.
Whether I was running for office or not. I have always cared about things from other people’s perspective. I always think: “What would be the best choices for my little cousins or the kids that go to my church? What would their interest be? How can I make decisions that would benefit them?” And that's really the approach that I take in all that I do.
Food accessibility is one of the major parts of your platform. Why is there a lack of access now, and how do you hope to expand it?
So it goes back to planning. The area that I'm seeking to represent doesn't have a grocery store, a laundromat, any of the basic things that you would of for a residential area. But there's gas station and three to five dollar stores in my district.
The dollar store approach is telling. You have to drive to the closest grocery store and our public transportation systems can improve. It would take someone hours to get to and from a grocery store. Recently, a program was created to take residents out of our neighborhood to go to the grocery store.
But the question is - why do we have to get a trolley to still go out of the neighborhoods that we live in rather than just giving us what our community needs, which is a grocery store, and a laundromat. We have to go so far and travel miles to get the basic amenities and it is really unacceptable.
You mentioned you ran in 2015 made to the primary, but lost the general. What was the biggest takeaway from that experience? And how has that changed how you're running this time around?
Run my own race. I was basically seen as the shoe-in a candidate. I made sure that my yard signs were everywhere. I made sure I was consistently top of mind. But that didn't translate because I was the first time candidate, and at times it felt like I was carrying other candidates too.It took away from me running my own race and public perception. And so now coming back into it, I'm focused on my race for first and foremost.
If I could wave a magic wand and change one thing on your city council, what would it be?
It would be all about the mindset, planning and visions for the future. We have to make sure our processes and ordinances reflect 2019 and not a year earlier.
What's the current mindset now that you feel is holding people back?
Complacent without hope, and just staying “in the box” thinking.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to another young person considering a run for office?
Do what you feel is right and don't let anybody deter you from it.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.