Rhodes College student Frankie Dakin, 20, ran for and won an alderman seat in his hometown of Millington, Tenn.
While most college students were taking classes or working internships this summer, Rhodes College junior Frankie Dakin was walking door to door in the sweltering Tennessee heat campaigning for public office.
The 20-year-old political economy major sought and won an alderman seat in his hometown of Millington, a suburb of about 10,000 just outside Memphis.
When election returns were released Aug. 2, Dakin found out he had ousted the city’s longest-serving incumbent alderman by a margin of 58% to 42%.
Dakin, who served as recruitment and philanthropy chair for his school’s chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity and as president pro-tempore of his college’s alternative spring break program, said he had always been interested in development, and had been interning at Bridges, a Memphis-based non-profit focused on racial, economic, educational and environmental justice. He had joined the organization as a first step in his goal of leading a “life of creative altruism.”
In February 2012, Millington’s mayor Richard Hodges, resigned after being indicted on bribery charges. Dakin personally attended the meeting when the bombshell dropped. The young man devoting his life to creative altruism saw a way that he could make his city better.
“I’ll run,” he told himself.
He filed his petition to run in April, and throughout the summer he and his team of three full-time college-age interns knocked on 2,800 doors — every residential address in the town.
“The heat really worked to our advantage,” Dakin said. “People invited us in to give us water and tell us stories.” Dakin had lived in Millington his entire life, but in these informal living room conversations he began to learn the deeper history and less visible problems in the town he loved. Many of the ideas and issues residents shared with him are perspectives he said he’ll bring when he officially takes office Jan. 1, 2013.
“They gave me my agenda,” he said.
Those conversations took greater prominence on election night. He received numerous congratulatory phone calls, but less expectedly, even more calls from citizens asking for help.
He couldn’t answer all of the questions, but he would have all fall to learn the arcane answers about city services and multi-year budget planning that he would need while in office. Just as many had asked during his campaign, he was often asked how he could balance the steep learning curve of civic governance with his schoolwork. However, Dakin wasn’t worried.
“It won’t interfere with my studies,” he said. “I just won’t spend as much time playing Xbox.”
He hopes his youth will bring new voices to the town’s civic discussion. Already one group of young people has approached him with a request they probably would never have brought to a white-haired alderman: a skate park.
“I want to provide more services for different types of citizens,” Dakin said. “There are grants out there for this type of thing.”
Dakin and other newly elected aldermen have also been holding meetings in community centers to listen to residents who may be annexed into Millington. The conversations are likely to smooth over what is usually a more abrupt process of annexing new citizens into the town.
“It’s small things like this that we can do,” he said.
As for now, the four-year alderman term appears to be almost the logical extension of the myriad of community engagement activities and social justice projects he led in his first college years.
“I’m interested in politics, I love government,” he said. After his term, Dakin said he might like to attend graduate school or go into the private sector.
“I’m committed to Millington for four years as alderman. But I’m emotionally committed to Millington for life,” he said.
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