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Published: Wednesday, 11/9/2005

Newest mayor, 18, will juggle city's work with school work

Sessions Sessions
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HILLSDALE - Michael Sessions' mother told him he has to show up for classes today at Hillsdale High School, where he is a senior. School officials might decide otherwise.

Mr. Sessions, 18, stunned everyone but himself by upsetting incumbent Douglas Ingles yesterday, winning a four-year term as mayor of this college town of about 8,000 residents. The Hillsdale High student, an official write-in candidate, bested Mr. Ingles by an unofficial total of 65 votes.

As the results were announced over a local radio station at 9:15 p.m., a large cheer went up in the Sessionses' home, where the new mayor lives with his parents, Scott and Lorri Sessions, and his 13-year-old sister, Sarah.

"They thought I was crazy and pretty skeptical of my campaign, but now they have smiles from cheek-to-cheek," Mr. Sessions said of his parents.

Although a political novice, Mr. Sessions spent last year shadowing a cousin who interned in a government office in Lansing.

That stirred an interest in politics. Meanwhile, he took notice of companies fleeing Hillsdale and an inordinate number of "For Sale" signs in neighborhoods all over town.

Mr. Sessions also was troubled by the lack of interest in local politics. Mr. Ingles was running for a second term unopposed, as were three city council members.

"City government was just not doing enough. I thought 'We've got to do something,'‚óŹ" Mr. Sessions said.

Not yet 18, Mr. Sessions was not qualified to enter the race in the spring. But the day after his birthday, on Sept. 22, he registered to vote, and the day after that he signed up as a write-in candidate. Using $700 he earned at a summer job and at Beach Concessions, where he gained the confidence of working with adults, Mr. Sessions began his campaign Oct. 8. He plastered signs all over town, gained local media interest, and went door-to-door for face-to-face conversations with voters.

"A lot of older people really enjoyed talking to me. I looked them in the eye. Young people could relate to me," he said.

Mr. Sessions' father said his son made a believer out of him. "Basically, he worked for it. He wanted it."

Said his mother: "I told him it's a big job for a young man, but he did it. I think it's wonderful."

Mr. Sessions said he will begin work immediately to lure more businesses and jobs to Hillsdale. He doesn't feel his age - or his schoolwork - will be an issue for the job that will pay him $3,600 a year.

Tim Vagle, Hillsdale's city manager, said he was surprised by the outcome, but looks forward to working with Mr. Sessions. They have not yet met.

Mr. Ingles spent last night working at the roller skating rink he owns. At 10:30 p.m., he said he had not heard any results and would not comment on the election until he had.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Ingles, who Mr. Sessions criticized for not campaigning, said of his 18-year-old opponent: "How much credibility does an 18-year-old have?"

Said Mr. Sessions last night: "I don't know how to respond to that. I think they should take me seriously [now]. They elected me mayor, so obviously the people of Hillsdale took me seriously."

- George Tanber



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