Most Ramapo students can relate to the challenges that come with balancing a personal life on top of a full course load. However this semester, Karlito Almeda, a senior history major minoring in political science and East Asian Studies, has been busier than most. On top of being a full-time student, he’s been running to be a councilman of Mahwah.
“I think it’s been fantastic. We have the first position on the ballot, we’ve raised the most money and we’ve had the most petition signatures,” Almeda said, describing the past few months of campaigning.
Almeda explained that the idea of running for the town council began through a desire to become more civically engaged. A friend who had made a difference in their community inspired him to become more actively involved:
“It all stems from one individual—someone who’s very grounded within the Mahwah Township—Eric Fuchs-Stengel. He started MEVO [Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization] in 2005 and 2006 and he instilled in me the notions of public service and commitment to the community,” Almeda said. “So that really inspired me to do more for my community, to get involved locally through different organizations and volunteer services. So seeing what the current environment is right now, [which is] a lot of the political discourse, I’m to make sure that we end small town politics and that we get back to business by serving the community.”
Almeda has centered his campaign on connecting with the community, a decision that has greatly impacted his view on life — not just on the campaign trail, but also at school and in his personal life.
“Well, [running for office] has changed everything to make things less centered on myself and more centered on the community itself. It’s more, to borrow from Kennedy, not what your community can do for you but what you can do for your community,” said Almeda.
This inspiration was compounded by a summer internship, which opened his eyes to what it meant to speak with members of a community directly.
“Last summer I had worked as canvasser for Environment New Jersey. During that time, I had knocked on thousands and thousands of doors all throughout north and central Jersey. So that provided me with experience and the need to engage other people who are voters in the town, as well as to see what different reactions are depending on that community,” he said.
Almeda has translated this into his own campaign, going above and beyond in order to reach out to as many residents as possible.
“Mahwah’s a really big town, so I’ve worn out two pairs of shoes,” Almeda said, laughing. “Understandably so, that’s a very difficult feat so I have, unfortunately, not been able to get to every single person’s door, but I’ve been working on it — based on my youth and my stamina.”
His youth has played a major role in his campaign — a quality he considers both a strength and a weakness.
“The biggest challenge is the age. You know, most people don’t think that a young individual is suited to be an elected official, but the matter of fact is that there are seven council members — everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and, working together, we balance that out. But to do that, you’d need an entire crew of people — again, devoid of personal interest — which are just working for the betterment of the town,” Almeda said.
On the other hand, Almeda’s youth has provided him with a fresh perspective:
“We aim to bring new faces to the town council, to change the dynamic, to make sure we’re getting rid of the old guard — which really strives to have an authoritarian grip on town council and the mayoral post in order to satisfy their personal agendas,” Almeda explained.
This Tuesday, Election Day, will mark the end of Almeda’s campaign, but not the end of his work:
“Election Day will be a kind of conclusion to an anxious several months,” Almeda commented. “We’re not going to be standing still — we’re going to be having people on the ground getting to last minute voters, getting out to make sure that the election is going correctly in that the other teams are not tampering with the process as has been in the past.”
He said that no matter the outcome, the results would not mark the end of his involvement.
“Regardless of the outcome of the election, I plan to stay involved locally and get more involved with state politics. But really, my dream is to pursue a PhD in diplomatic history, possibly through a graduate program at Columbia University, NYU or Fordham — somewhere close so that I can still have an impact on my community.”
With his future plans revolving around the community, it is clear that Almeda will continue to be an active part of his community: something he sees as important not just for his own personal growth, but also for the community.
“I think this is something bigger than myself.”