Arkansas town elects 18-year-old as mayor

EARLE, Ark. — He only graduated from high school seven months ago, but Jaylen Smith will soon be sitting behind a different desk -- as mayor of a rural Arkansas town.

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Smith, 18, was elected mayor of Earle, a small town located about 30 miles northwest of Memphis, Tennessee, WHBQ-TV reported. The town has approximately 1,800 residents.

Smith won 235 votes in a runoff election, according to the Crittenden County clerk’s office. His opponent was Nemi Matthews Sr., the city’s longtime streets superintendent, who collected 183 votes. Matthews congratulated Smith in a Facebook post.

Smith will be sworn in during the first week of January, CNN reported.

“I felt so grateful! I had the craziest facial reaction when I won!” Smith told NBC News. “It was such a blessing.”

The mayor-elect’s parents are also ecstatic.

“My mom can’t stop crying,” Smith told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

Smith is not the first 18-year-old elected to lead a city. Michael Sessions was elected in 2005 in Hillsdale, Michigan, NPR reported. He is, however, the youngest Black mayor in the U.S., according to WHBQ.

“You have to start somewhere -- you really do,” Smith told the Post. “I didn’t want to be 30 or 40 and become a mayor when I could be one right now.”

Smith, a Democrat, ran on the slogan, “It’s time to build a better chapter of Earle, Arkansas.”

“I didn’t run to make a name for myself,” Smith told CNN on Wednesday. “I ran because I wanted to help my community and move my community in the direction that it needed to be moved in.”

Smith spent three years as president of Earle High School’s student government. One of his achievements was negotiating a deal with a new cafeteria vendor.

“I worked time after time to get them what they wanted,” Smith told the Post.

Smith said he used the skepticism of people in Earle about his youth as a tool.

“I use doubters to motivate me to move forward,” Smith told the Post.

In addition to running Earle, Smith plans to attend Arkansas State University Mid-South, according to the newspaper. He said his ultimate goal is to become a prosecutor.

As mayor, Smith said he plans to improve public safety, implement different safety and emergency plans, and put forward a plan to beautify the town, KATV reported.

“First, I want to improve public safety here. Secondly, tear down abandoned houses,” Smith told WHBQ in an interview last month. “Transportation here for the community, bring a grocery store here.”

“I’m excited for Jaylen and the entire community in Earle as he becomes the youngest-ever African American mayor elected in the country,” said Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., who also serves as president of the African American Mayors Association. “I’m proud of his willingness to enter into public service at such a young age and his aspirational goals for the city.”

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