Teenager elected to South Robertson Neighborhood Council

April 19, 2010

Source: LA Times

Five feet tall, with dangly purple earrings and funky sneakers she decorated with a marker, Rachel Lester is one of the city’s newest elected representatives.

At 15, she’s also the youngest.

Rachel trounced her competition in this month’s South Robertson Neighborhood Council election, pulling in 144 votes. Her opponent, a man with two children and a college degree, mustered only 13.

When she begins her two-year term speaking for District 1 in June, she’ll have to hitch a ride from Mom to the monthly council meetings. Rachel doesn’t have her learner’s permit yet, much less a driver’s license.

Like the campaign of another successful politician, Barack Obama, Rachel’s made the most of Facebook. And like the president, she clinched her victory with the youth vote.

Last week, while reflecting on her win, she explained the political value of peer pressure.

“When a few teenagers do something,” she said, “a lot of teenagers do something.”

She said she hopes to harness that energy to bring change to her roughly 50-block district.

The area is predominantly white, with one of the city’s highest concentrations of Jewish residents. It includes much of what is known as the Pico-Robertson district, a stretch of Pico Boulevard that boasts dozens of kosher grocery stores and restaurants, including a kosher Subway sandwich franchise and the much-loved Shalom Pizza.

On Friday evenings, it is common to see families walking to services at the area’s many synagogues

Rachel is a sophomore at Shalhevet High School, a modern Orthdox Jewish school not far from her home.

One morning last week, about 200 teenagers were sitting in a school assembly, the boys in yarmulkes, the girls in knee-length skirts. They were having a school-wide discussion about genocide.

When the moderator posed a question to the students, Rachel was one of the first to raise her hand to speak. But before she could open her mouth, someone interrupted with a shout: “Remember, you’re speaking on behalf of your district!”

The room broke into laughter, and Rachel’s cheeks flushed plum.

The truth is that she didn’t tell her friends that she was running for office until just three days before the election. Why? Because the neighborhood council, she said, “kind of sounds kind of dorky.”

The whole thing came about a few months ago when Rachel’s mother found a flier publicizing the neighborhood council elections stuck to the front door of their charming Spanish style-home.

The flier said anyone 15 or older was eligible to vote or to run. Intrigued, mother and daughter went to an information session.

“It was really cool and fun,” her mother, Sherri Ziff Lester, said. “Halfway through it Rachel said, ‘I’m totally doing this.’ ”

Before Rachel’s mom allowed her to run for office, she made the teenager sit through two council board meetings, bureaucratic, sometimes boring affairs that have been known to run late into the night.

A straight-A student who skipped a grade, Rachel has a schedule already packed with choir practice, tutoring and meetings for the school newspaper, The Boiling Point, for which she is both a page designer and the features editor.

Read the rest at LATimes.com!

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