Over before it began

It wouldn’t have been difficult to write off Derwin Montgomery out of hand.

The 21-year-old Winston-Salem State University senior is the youngest ever to run for city council in the Twin City; he has no professional political experience or even a business profile — he has not yet graduated from college.

On top of that, he chose to run as a Democrat in the East Ward, a seat held by incumbent Joycelyn Johnson, a member of Winston-Salem City Council since 1993, when Montgomery was in kindergarten.

Smart money chalked up Montgomery’s efforts to youthful exuberance and naïve optimism. But Montgomery himself, as it turns out, is pretty smart — a Dean’s Scholar at WSSU. And he is also money.

Montgomery is vice president of the NAACP Youth & College Division. He mentors wayward youth. He is a youth minister at Calvary Baptist Church. He has already been recognized by the city with a Martin Luther King Young Dreamers Award. And after he finishes his undergraduate studies — a dual major in political science and theology — he plans to get a law degree from Wake Forest University. And now he is perhaps the youngest city council member in the state of North Carolina.

Derwin Montgomery is a young man on his way.

And he also presents a prime example of what we here in the offices have taken to calling the “Obama factor.”

Montgomery became politicized as he watched Barack Obama make his way to the national political fore, believed in his message and admired his campaign techniques. For his run at council this year he harnessed the enthusiasm other young people felt after last year’s historic election, and used changes in NC elections law to his advantage.

Using Early Voting and One Stop Voting, Montgomery was able to muster more than 400 votes before the polls even opened in Winston-Salem last week, effectively winning the election before it even began. The incumbent Johnson only received about 200 votes in total. Because Winston- Salem is one of the few cities in the country that holds partisan municipal elections, and there was no Republican running for the East Ward seat, by winning the primary Montgomery won the whole race.

By galvanizing voters on the college campus, Montgomery tapped into an oft-ignored segment of the voting populace.

But even more impressive is the war chest he amassed for this contest — impressive not for its largesse but its simplicity.

Montgomeryraised $849, he said, most of it from family and a few of his collegeprofessors, which he spent on flyers and transportation. He told YES!Weekly that he spent more money on his campaign for student bodypresident at Winston- Salem State than he did to win his city councilseat.

And nowMontgomery, who turned 21 earlier this month, is the youngest citycouncil member in Winston-Salem’s recorded history, and the youngestelected official in the state of North Carolina.

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