Photo courtesy of state Rep. Rashida Tlaib
Taylor City Councilman Alex Garza (third from left) is sworn in by 23rd District Court Judge Geno Salomone (left) Nov. 14 at Lakes of Taylor Golf Club accompanied by his sisters Tristan Reyes (second from left) and Juli Reyes.
‘Somebody had to be a catalyst for the new generation’s involvement in local politics. I feel like I am accomplishing that goal.’
— Lincoln Park Councilman Elliott Zelenak
By SUE SUCHYTA
An eagerness to serve and bring a fresh perspective to their city councils motivated successful election bids from Taylor Councilman Alex Garza, 20, and Lincoln Park Councilman Elliott Zelenak, 19.
Wanting to help his city while being a voice for his generation encouraged him to run for a council seat, Zelenak said. He said while some residents were leery of his age, most people were surprised then supportive of his council bid.
“Somebody had to be a catalyst for the new generation’s involvement in local politics,” Zelenak said. “I feel like I am accomplishing that goal.”
Zelenak, a 2013 graduate of University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy, said his school’s mission to prepare graduates to be “men for others” greatly influenced him.
“It helps me to view other people’s ideas and standpoint, which helps me come to a compromise solution,” Zelenak said.
He said the most difficult decision facing the Lincoln Park’s City Council is what many municipalities face: balancing a limited budget no one anticipated.
Zelenak’s campaign priorities, bringing new businesses into the city and accomplishing community revitalization, are issues he plans to address.
He said being the son of attorney Edward Zelenak has both helped and hindered him.
“I do not feel any sort of pressure to live up to my dad’s record of public service,” Elliott Zelenak said. “He has been doing so his whole life. I haven’t even been on the council for one year.”
Garza, in contrast, said he is the first in his family to become involved in public service and run for a political office.
A graduate of Dearborn Heights Annapolis High School, Garza served as a student government representative, secretary and president during his four years as a student there.
Taylor, however, is home for the youngest council representative in the city’s history, and is where his grandmother has lived since the 1950s, when it was a charter township.
Garza said he has been involved as a Taylor community volunteer for many years and served on Taylor’s downtown development authority.
He said his work as a legislative aide at both the municipal and state level provided him with a solid understanding of the role of a city council.
While campaigning for council, Garza said he told residents he was committed to bringing solutions to the council table when elected.
“I also let them know I did not want to be the council member you see only twice a month,” Garza said. “I want to be more than that. I want to be open and accessible to members of the community 24/7.”
Garza said he knocked on more than 15,000 doors during the entire campaign process while talking to residents and telling them what he had to offer to the city council.
He said hot topics during the campaign were the city’s general fund deficit, public safety, moving the city forward and support for senior citizens.
“Making sure our city is financially sound and making sure our seniors and kids (are) safe are the most important items I am focused on now,” Garza said.
Garza feels the fresh perspective that he brings to the city council as its youngest representative in Taylor history is both needed and appreciated by residents.
“There are many cities that are not as diverse in age as our council,” Garza said. “The younger generation has much to offer, and I thank my residents for realizing that and electing me to office in Taylor.”
He said he tries to remember his campaign slogan, “working together for Taylor” when debating issues with colleagues or communicating with constituents.
“It is a reminder to make sure I never lose focus to why I am on city council,” Garza said.
“I am there for the residents of my city and I must do the right thing for them.”