As 10-year-old Tony Perry watched the recount of the 2000 presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore, he realized he wanted to pursue a political career in government.
“I just loved everything about [the 2000 election],” Perry said. “I loved meeting people, talking to people, listening to their ideas, their concerns, their comments on different issues and I really believed this was the route I needed to take as an adult.”
Perry, a 28-year-old 2012 political science alumnus, was selected this month by the Township Committee as the youngest mayor ever in his hometown Middletown, New Jersey.
Perry has worked on the township planning and library boards in Middletown, one of the oldest towns in New Jersey. In November 2017, he was appointed to a vacant seat on the township committee.
In 2018, he retained his Township Committee seat in an election. In Middletown, the committee selects the mayor, and it chose Perry earlier this month.
Middletown residents have a duty to help each other, and Perry tries to incorporate this view in his job, he added.
“Government doesn’t always have to be the answer, but we can be the intermediary,” he added. “Our responsibility should be to connect residents with existing programs that are out there to help you when you’re sick, when you perhaps have a fire in your home or you have a family member who lost their job.”
While at Temple, Perry interned in former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s office and continued serving as an aide after he graduated.
In the position, Perry assisted the Sandy Recovery Division in October 2012. He helped more than 2,700 families recover and helped them navigate state and federal government systems to find supplies to rebuild their houses, Perry said.
“Watching somebody open up the front door the first time of their newly built home after spending a year or two outside of it was probably the most humbling thing I’ve been a part of,” Perry said.
Without that internship, Perry might not have landed his current role at such a young age, he said.
Ryan Vander Wielen, a political science professor, taught Perry in his Fall 2011 Legislative Process course. He said Perry showed a natural sense for politics during the class, so his accomplishments aren’t surprising.
Perry becoming mayor is a huge achievement for someone so young, Vander Wielen added.
“It means that he has gained the respect of his peers at an incredibly rapid rate, and it seems that he has a promising career ahead of him,” Vander Wielen said. “Rising to the level of not only being on council but being selected as the mayor by the council is a real testament to these innate abilities.”
Shaun Golden has been the sheriff of Monmouth County, New Jersey, which includes Middletown. Golden has worked alongside Perry since 2010 and described him as tenacious, caring and committed — traits he believes will help Perry succeed as mayor.
Golden added he has enjoyed watching Perry’s career successes.
“I’ve been able to witness his growth in his career, and his knowledge base surpasses that of some of those who have been in government 10, 20 years,” Golden said. “He’s a rising star here in Monmouth GOP. He’s a person that our millennials and young GOPers should look up to.”
Perry hopes to inspire Middletown youth to participate in politics and their communities.
“The one thing I want to do is to hopefully show other millennials that you can’t just sit back and check Facebook…because that’s not how things get done,” he said. “Things get done by those who are willing to show up, willing to get involved.”
While Perry admitted being the town’s youngest mayor comes with pressure, he reminds himself he has the opportunity to make a change in his community.
“You just have to wake up every day knowing that you can do something great,” Perry said. “You’re not going to do something great every day, but you have the opportunity to do something great.”