Rylie Cooper, a freshman studying international politics, officially launched her campaign and filed the necessary paperwork at the Bellefonte elections office Thursday afternoon to be on the ballot for the upcoming State College Borough Council primary election in May.
Cooper said she’s running for one of the three openings on the Council because she feels there’s a disconnect between students and their local government. “I wanted to be able to give students a voice within the Borough because I felt like it wasn’t being heard,” Cooper said. Penn State’s University Park Undergraduate Association does have a presence on the Borough Council, but only in a non-voting liaison capacity.
Unfortunately, students rarely take part in local government affairs except when they are told to come out to a meeting that directly impacts them. Earlier last month, many students attended a Borough Council meeting because the Council was discussing an amendment that would limit the occupancy of fenced in areas.
Cooper wants to accurately represent students and their concerns within the Borough. She wants to get more street lamp lighting downtown so students feel safer walking around at night and prevent ordinances that directly target the student population. It’s safe to say she doesn’t think students will “coalesce like bugs” around additional streetlights.
Compromise will be key in order to work with the other members of the Council. “I have had to learn how to compromise to work well with others,” Cooper explained. “I have always been a strong Democrat. I come from a very Republican area, so I do know how to sit down with people and look past party views.”
Cooper’s political experience comes largely from her participation in her high school’s student government and from her fellowship with the Pennsylvania Coordinated Campaign assisting Democrats up and down the ballot. She is also a member of the Penn State College Progressives.
Campaign manager Anthony Zarzycki said Cooper’s run will be a testament to whether the Penn State student body can engage enough to realize it’s not enough to have only a non-voting representative on the Council.
The biggest challenge for Cooper moving forward will be increasing the poor voter turnout of Borough Council elections. Typically only about four percent of the borough votes, and because students make up a large majority of the local population, Cooper hopes she can garner their vote to propel her to victory. With the primary election occurring May 16, the week after final exams, she hopes to get students to vote via absentee ballot this spring and then vote for her in the fall general election.
The last student to successfully earn a seat on Borough Council was Dean Phillips, who ran in 1973. He served on the Council for more than three years as both an undergraduate and a graduate student.
After students return from spring break, Cooper plans to kick off her campaign with a town hall meeting for students to better understand what they would like to see from their local government. She also plans to go door to door to make her campaign known.
“I’m campaigning on my identity as a student,” Cooper said. “I hope to get more than just the Democrat student out to vote, more than just the Republican student out to vote — I want to get all the students out to vote so their voices are heard.”