Meet the 18-Year-Old Who Ran a Mayoral Campaign
When Grace Brindle, an 18-year-old in Westfield, New Jersey, heard her mom was considering running for mayor, she didn’t insist that the task would be too difficult or discourage her in a stereotypical "the world revolves around me" fashion. Instead, the high school senior offered to become her mom's temporary campaign manager.
Grace was actually the reason her mom, Shelley Brindle—recently retired after 25 years as an HBO executive—finally agreed to run. After the 2016 presidential election and Obama’s farewell address urging people to be politically active, Shelley began toying with the idea to run for mayor in her large suburban town, where she had lived with her family for about two decades. After attending a couple town council meetings and the Women’s March in January 2017, the notion became a daily thought in Shelley’s mind.
“It was Grace who finally said ‘Mom, you’re always talking about empowering women and young girls and telling them to have courage to get out of their comfort zone,'” Shelley says. "She told me, 'You can’t think about winning.You just have to think that by running, you’ll be making a difference.’”
Shelley knew she would be running against the long-standing Republican mayor, Andy Skibitsky, and his large network of support in the upper-middle-class town. Nevertheless, she launched a seven-month mayoral campaign for Westfield’s Democratic party that will last until the election in November. And until Shelley hired an official campaign manager in early May, her very inexperienced (yet very willing) daughter assumed the role.
“It was difficult to manage the entire campaign,” Grace says. “To juggle all the needs and do all my school work and all my extracurricular activities, and then there’s prom and AP testing and going to the gym and trying to have a social life. It was just insane.”
But the typical stresses of high school don't hinder Grace's love of and natural talent for campaign work. Shelley describes her daughter as a problem solver, the girl behind the scenes. “Grace is able to see things, she’s very big picture,” she says. She has also become the go-to IT person for the campaign, constantly researching online how to handle technology problems. And even now that Ben Nanna—a recent Colombia graduate who worked for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign team—has taken over as campaign manager, Grace still stays involved by completing any necessary tasks and delegating assignments to the interns.
Grace loves being on the sidelines of the campaign, tinkering and diagnosing issues as they abruptly spring up. However, she admits she’s “definitely not a politician” and doesn’t “have the endurance to run” herself. Still, she appreciates how her mom's campaign forced her to widen her circles. “I’ve been going to all these community events,” she says. “I’ve seen this whole other side of Westfield that I never would have met if I didn’t get out of my comfort zone.”
The campaign has also strengthened Grace's relationship with her mom. “I spend a lot more time with her and we've bonded over our common interests in the campaign,” Grace says. "We are very similar in how we think and how we think things should be run.”
Shelley agrees that working together has helped her and Grace transition into an adult relationship and strengthen the bond they’ve shared for the past 18 years. “I see Grace now as an independent adult,” Shelley says. “Honestly, that’s going to be one of the best outcomes of this campaign.”
Photo: Shelley (left) and Grace Brindle