It seems perfectly natural that Skyler Johnson, 19, is seeking to replace Ken LaValle in the New York State Senate after watching the candidate campaign — despite the fact the retiring senator was in his third decade in office when Johnson was born.
Johnson’s grasp of the issues and his appeal to divergent voters, remind some onlookers of LaValle — and all he did was serve 44 years in Albany. There are still those who consider age a detriment, however.
Asked why people tend to think he is too young for candidacy, Skyler Johnson responds quizzically. “Most of our founding fathers were under 30. Thomas Jefferson was 19.”
Given the nation’s current political unrest, Johnson believes his positions place him perfectly in the forefront of the wave of change likely to take place.
“Our message resonates. The general sense is that politics is an old people’s game so young people have been disenfranchised,” Johnson said. It’s obvious on the campaign trail Johnson has it in his bones. When he talks, people listen. His words resonate.
Johnson hails from Mt. Sinai and is a political science major at Suffolk Community College. He is already a veteran of a political campaign, acting as campaign manager for Sarah Deonarine, a Democrat who ran against another long-time Albany veteran Jane Bonner for the District 2 council seat. He said that experience gave him a sense of what it was like to be on the campaign trail. He’s been canvassing ever since.
This race pits Johnson against Laura Ahearn, Nora Higgins, Valerie Cartwright, and Tommy John Schiavoni. With the exception of Schiavoni, who currently sits on the Southampton Town Board, the field is devoid of elected politicians. Johnson is making a determined run.
“When I started, I had zero name recognition, none. But we are happy. We are polling very well,” he said.
The landscape has changed considerably in the time since Johnson began campaigning, with the attack of the novel coronavirus and the civil arrest occurring since George Floyd’s murder. Young people are engaged anew. “I’ve received a lot of national attention,” he said.
Johnson is a self-described activist. He has periodically organized on issues such as gun violence, racism, and Native American Rights and LGTBQ issues — before they were brought to the fore by some national events. It about Long Island, he says.
The focus on his age is only used by his opponents, “so no one will take us seriously.” It’s a strategy that’s not working. “We will emerge from this primary,” Johnson said.