When I share with people I’m running for city clerk the most common question is, “What exactly does a city clerk do?” A bit more than you’d think.

They oversee elections, register new voters, deal with small business licenses and maintain city records — in addition to a host of other daily duties.

Outside of a clerk’s core responsibilities, they focus on increasing the number of voters among our diverse and often underserved communities. And working with those in underserved communities, especially youth, has always been a passion of mine. I’d love to be able to continue that work as city clerk to visit local schools to get students excited about government and participating in their community.

Surprisingly, that’s not what I’m most excited about with this opportunity. Getting young voters jazzed about their community involvement is vital and exhilarating. What caught my eye most of all is acting as a bridge between city council and the general public.

I live for being an advocate for others and want my neighbors to breathe easy knowing they have someone they can go to with issues or ideas. I want them to trust they will be heard.

This position is really an extension of my current profession as a social worker. I spend the day helping people find and use their voice to better their lives. As city clerk, I’d add another avenue to help fight for people to be heard. Not just during elections, but year-round.

Currently, the city of Kentwood has no municipal-level protections for the LGBTQ+ community. As clerk, I’d be in charge of preparing the agenda of city council. Meaning with the help of fellow elected officials, I’d have a hand in creating proposals to further LGBTQ+ protections at a city level.

Winning this election would give the city’s government its first open, proudly gay government official, the second openly gay city clerk in all of Michigan, and would make me one of the youngest publicly elected officials currently serving in Michigan.

This, plus my firsthand experience working with marginalized communities, would put me in a position to connect our government leaders with resources and experts in furthering policies that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

From the start of this journey, I’ve been facing an uphill battle. I am a 25-year-old gay social worker who is running his first-ever campaign, challenging a 62-year-old incumbent who’s been in office for over 20 years without ever being challenged. So I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But uphill battles are where I’m most comfortable, thanks to a community of people willing to sign my petition, help me knock on doors and donate.

Plus, I’m fortunate to have an outstanding support system of people who’ve never let me fight anything alone, a support system that inspires me to do the same for those in our community.

Success of any kind depends on a support system. I need one for this election just as the community needs one in their city clerk.

Taylor Vanderlaan played rugby at Ferris State Univ., about an hour north of Kentwood, Mich. He is currently a social worker in the area. He can be reached via Facebook, Instagram or email ([email protected]). You can find more information about his run for city clerk on Facebook and on his campaign website.

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