Seth Dobbelaer, 22
Seth Dobbelaer, 22
At the age of 22, Seth Dobbelaer is already a second time candidate. Two years ago, he ran for city council in Newark, Ohio. While he may not have won, he outperformed any Democrat that’s ever run in that district and raised more money than any candidate in the race. This year he’s running again to give young people a seat at the table in his city.
What was the best advice you received before you ran for office?
Probably when I was first considering running, but before I actually started, I got some great advice: know your issues, know what you're doing, stay passionate about it even when it's difficult.
That's been something that's always stuck with me. If you know exactly what you're doing, why you're doing it, you're going to be a lot more confident, a lot more prepared and a lot better off than if you just half-ass it or don't take it as seriously as maybe you should.
What are the potholes in your community? What issues do you feel are being neglected but you really want to see addressed?
We definitely have no shortage of issues in our community and the issues facing local government are basic. It's infrastructure, public safety, things like that. A lot of the issues that we're facing, I guess would be considered small but they're impactful on people's lives.
We had a lot of room for improvement in terms of street repair, neighborhood improvements, in terms of sidewalks, alleys, streets. We haven't seen the attention paid to those types of issues that we should in some of the neighborhoods that are off the beaten path or that aren't right in the main view when you drive or walk through our city.
Also, we have a big problem with slumlords in our community and property code enforcement. So essentially, there are lots of landlords -we'll call slumlords because that's what they are- who don't take care of their properties in the way that they should. They bring down the neighborhood pride, they bring down home values, they bring down everything because they're not taking care of their properties. And the tenants are the ones that are suffering because their landlords aren't taking care of the property.
Another issue is community policing and safety. We have the same levels in our safety forces that we did in the 1990s in terms of staffing, so we just don't have enough police or fire personnel. It’s hard for the police to do community policing, where they can really spend time getting out and talking to folks and getting to know people on a more positive note. They're always running from call to call to call and people only see the negative interactions, because they're only there when there's an emergency rather than doing some community policing and preventative policing.
And then also government transparency. I think all government but especially local government can do a much better job of being transparent and being honest and clear with the community about what's going on, what some of the issues that they're working on are and how the community can be involved.
You’re currently a Loaned Executive at United Way and the owner of an apple farm. Why did you transition from farming to politics?
Actually, I still have the apple farm. My brother and I have an organic apple orchard and we're one of the only certified organic apple orchards in the state of Ohio. And then yes, I'm a Loaned Executive for the United Way, doing fundraising.
The transition came about three years ago when I first ran for city council. I ran for Ward 6, and at that time, I was working for the YMCA and I still had the farm. I was just doing my regular work and I just thought to myself that I wanted to run for city council, I've always been passionate about local politics and community engagement. I've always been brought up with the idea that you should be giving back to your community and making sure you're doing work that's improving other people's lives.
So I knew some people that were on the city council, and I reached out to them and asked, "How do I do this? What do I do? Should I do this?" I had a couple of meetings and started to learn more about it. And the more I learned about it, the more I wanted to do it. And then I just decided to go for it and I jumped in and ran in 2017. It was a tough race, I was running against a 16-year Republican incumbent who was and still is majority leader on the council in a heavily conservative ward.
But I ended up outperforming every Democrat that's ever run there, even though I ended up losing. And I also outraised every city council candidate in the entire county, by quite a margin. So it was a good learning experience. It kind of injected me into politics, Fast and Furious style. I spent a lot of time talking to folks, knocking on thousands of doors. And ever since then, I've just been hooked on community involvement, politics, and local government.
You mentioned that you raised the most money out of any candidate, and yet you're also the youngest candidate. How were you able to garner that much support?
I get that question a lot. I think people were engaged with my energy. I was working really, really hard. I was showing up to all the events, I was out there talking to folks day after day after day, knocking on doors. And people were just ready for change in Newark. I think in the political climate, people were just ready for something new. I showed the energy, the leadership, new ideas, new thoughts, and just some new excitement that hadn't been seen in the city council races or in on city council in a long time. So, you know, old fashioned politics - just knocking doors and talking to folks and listening.
As you mentioned this is your second time running. What do you think was the biggest lessons you learned from your first time running and are taking into this campaign?
Stay organized, stay focused.
You have to really, really care what people think about you. But also not take anything too personally so that you don't get discouraged. Because any time you're in politics, people are going to whisper about you and talk about you. It can be hard sometimes to not take it personally and to not let it get you down. So stay focused on why you're running and remember that you're in it to improve people's lives. And just keep on keeping on.
It can be intimidating for a young person to take that leap. But once you do, you really start to learn how impactful you can be…
There are so many young people interested in politics and government, yet so few run. What barriers do you think prevent young people from running for office?
As a young person, you have so much more to prove than somebody who's been around a while, just because nobody knows what you're about. Nobody knows really anything about you. And so in a lot of ways, you have to work twice as hard to just get a seat at the table. I think that discourages a lot of people because they know from the get-go that automatically they're going to be labeled just a young candidate who doesn't really know what they're doing.
It can be intimidating for a young person to take that leap. But once you do, you really start to learn how impactful you can be and how you can encourage other people to get involved too, who maybe thought they didn't have a seat at the table, or they shouldn't have to table just because of their age.
What do you think best prepared you for public office?
Showing up, showing up, showing up. That is the most important thing.
Since I was still young, when I first ran, it was just kind of a building the plane as the fly type situation. I'm not really sure I was prepared for it. But I learned it really quick. And the most important thing for any elected official and really any line of work is just work ethic. Hard work, work ethic, just showing up to events, showing up to meetings, showing up to talk to constituents - showing up, showing up, showing up. That is the most important thing.
If you do that, I think you can be successful at anything. If you combine showing up with hard work, you're good to go. I had a lot of experience with hard work on the farm and growing up in that kind of environment. So I think that may have helped prepare me.
But in terms of actually being in the spotlight, nothing prepares you for it. Just let it happen.
If you could wave a magic wand and get universal support for something, what’s one thing you’d change as a city council member?
You know, that's the kind of a tough question because I guess being involved in politics, you get a little bit cynical at times because you know how tough it's going to be to get anything done.
So I don't spend a lot of time thinking about waving a magic wand, because I know that it's going to be a lot of hard work to accomplish any of the things that I want to accomplish. But if I could wave a magic wand, I’d provide immediate low barrier housing for our homeless population on day one, so they have a way to transition off the street into more stable and transitional housing.
What advice would you give to another young person who's considering a run for office?
Do it. Just keep your head up. Make good decisions. Know your issues. Learn about your community. If you can, talk to people who have been through it.
But my advice would be if you're considering it, then that's a sign that you should do it. And you’ve just got to go for 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.