Students involved in local elections

Tepou Helu (left) is running for mayor of Euless and UTD student Vera Layton is supporting her mother in the election. Photo by Srichandrakiran Gottipati | Mercury Staff.


Alumnus Nicholas St. John said he always felt it was his duty and calling to bridge the gap between the local government and general public. In his quest to do so, St. John is now running for city council in Fort Worth.

The current city councilman for district six has a large financial advantage over St. John, and there are also two other challengers running against him. However, St. John has a plan.

“The incumbent had $100,000 in his account before the campaign season even began, so it’s going to be tough to run against that,” he said. “My goal is to get 30 percent of the vote.”

St. John’s strategy is to force the incumbent to receive less than 50 percent of the vote. Without the majority vote, the two candidates with the most votes would proceed to a runoff, where St. John hopes he can win with the help of his challengers.

“We made an agreement where whoever goes against the incumbent in the runoff will be supported by the remaining challengers so hopefully we can get one of us to win,” he said.

St. John decided to run this year because of the rise of liberal political groups in Fort Worth, he said.

“With the most recent election of President (Donald) Trump, a lot of progressives are fired up. This is the first time that all the city council seats have challengers. I saw the opportunity to get behind the movement I already supported and make change,” he said.

St. John isn’t the only UTD student or alumnus to get involved in politics. Political science junior Vera Layton planned to run for city council in Euless, but ended up dropping out due to work pressure and academic responsibilities. Nonetheless, she is an avid supporter of her mother, Tepou Helu, who is running for mayor of Euless.

Helu, a Tongan and the first minority to run for mayor, decided to get involved in order to combat what she called the complacency of Euless.

“Right now, people in Euless are comfortable where they are. They don’t really want anything to change, and we want to fix that,” Layton said.

For Helu, that attitude is an obstacle to Euless becoming a big city.

“We want people to get off the airport and think, ‘Wow, I should head to Euless,’’’ Helu said. “However, the complacency from a lot of people means a lack of growth. We want to build Euless into a brand, like New York and Los Angeles, etcetera.”

The mother-daughter duo believes that growth in Euless should begin by making proper investments. One current city project is looking to build a riverwalk off of U.S. Highway 121. Helu’s platform is based on allocating finances towards small businesses and education instead.

“As far as developing Euless, I feel that we need to develop in the middle of Euless,” Helu said. “I think the riverwalk is a waste of time. Instead, we could put a shopping center and a Walmart or an office building for small businesses in the middle of Euless.”

Some challenges associated with running are voter turnout and the status quo.

“Even though Euless is almost 50 percent minority, none of the city council members are from a minority. That’s one reason people are interested in our stories, and we want to empower other people, whether they are minority or not, to do the same thing,” Layton said.

The other issue is with the age of the voters.

“Millennials are just not interested in politics, and that’s something that I want to change by showing them that we can start change in our local governments,” Layton said.

Despite this, Layton and Helu said they think they have a significant chance of winning.

“People want a leader who they can look up to, and who can lead them to success. I believe that (I) can wake people up and show how important education and small businesses to making a great city,” Helu said.

Both Layton and St. John credit UTD to developing skills that would help them in an election.

“When I was at UTD, I actually founded the Democratic Socialists at UTD group, and those de-bates with the Republican’s side really got me more involved with politics and made me under-stand what I need to do,” St. John said.

For Layton, UTD helped her understand how the American political system worked.

“I learned that even though people stress the presidential election, it’s the local elections that really make change, which is why I wanted to get involved in politics,” she said.

Nonetheless, Layton, Helu and St. John are all motivated by similar desires.

“My favorite thing is when I talk to regular people and ask them what their concerns are,” he said. “To hear them be happy that someone is looking out for them is the best.”

Helu and Layton agree that the people’s happiness is the ultimate goal.

“I get excited when people are doing good, children are going to school, and people are opening small businesses. (People) striving to grow and be better makes me happy,” Helu said.

Although Layton is no longer running, she said the political process is the most meaningful at the local level.

“When you turn 18, people get excited about their right to vote, but they’re always thinking about voting in the presidential election even though real change comes from your local elections,” she said. “Voting locally is where actual change begins.”

Local election voting happens the same way as presidential elections. Students can vote in their precincts at the appropriate voting center on Election Day.


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