On November 5, Poughkeepsie, New York has an opportunity to elect the countries youngest mayor.
Joash Ward is young, black, and accomplished. At age 16, Ward graduated from Poughkeepsie High School at the top of his class. When he was 19, he graduated from Syracuse University with honors, then went on to receive his master’s in law at age 23 from King’s College in London.
From working as an intern for former President Barack Obama at the White House to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Ward has used politics to fight for a change in big institutions. Now, he hopes to continue those efforts as he returns to Poughkeepsie to run for mayor.
“At the local level, we can either take responsibility and find solutions for the challenges facing us, or we can blame higher levels of government,” Ward told Blavity. “Either way, the quality of life for most communities is defined by what’s happening at the local level. I want to improve the quality of life for the community I know and love.”
This is Ward's first time vying for public office, and should he be elected, Ward will be the youngest sitting mayor of the United States.
Ward says his life has given him enough experience to tackle Poughkeepsie’s problems. Growing up in the city, he lived with his six siblings in public housing. His family relied on government assistance while surviving domestic violence. Ward believed in what society told him: If he worked hard, he would make it out of his living situation. But yet, Ward made it to the top of his class without ever seeing the results of his labor implemented in his community.
“I learned the fix is not hard work, but the rules that allow us to compete on a fair footing,” Ward said. “Government writes those rules. But when our government is not a reflection of us, there are hundreds of families like mine being told 'just work harder' with no real path.”
Ward hopes to create that path as mayor. One of his campaign proposals is to place a 20 percent affordable housing mandate on real estate development. He believes affordable housing is necessary but also temporary.
In an effort to increase generational wealth, Ward has composed a plan to revamp vacant houses and secure low-interest mortgages for families in need of low-income housing. Ward’s emphasis is on increasing homeownership as a route to self-determination and self-sufficiency.
Ward says he knows that route can be dangerous — particularly given such instances as that of 28-year-old Atatiana Koquice Jefferson; the black woman shot and killed in her home by a Fort Worth police officer. Ward hopes as mayor he can forge a better process of healing.
"Policing protocols, practices, and accountability, are managed at the municipal level. That’s why I started here,” Ward said.
In his proposal, to offset the fact that 90 percent of police officers do not live in Poughkeepsie, Ward has included a 40-hour minimum annual "plain clothes" interaction with the community, for every police officer on the force. He believes to police the community, one must be a part of the community, and hopes this interaction will help establish better community-police bonds, and help officers see the effects of their policing.
These are big proposals coming from a young black politician and Ward knows that. Besides his age, Ward is also up against the challenge of becoming the first Democratic mayor of Poughkeepsie elected in 16 years. To Ward, none of these are barriers but rather what makes him unique.
The bigger challenge to Ward is his opponent and current Poughkeepsie mayor, Robert Rolison. A former officer and Republican, Rolison isn’t really liked by black residents due to his lack of accountability for police brutality and his family’s history of segregating public schools. Ward knows he is the better choice and hopes to earn the trust of Poughkeepsie residents in his leadership.
“I am a harbinger of the courage my generation will bring to tackle the challenges that face us. A new day is here and it arrived yesterday,” Ward said.