The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Andrew Rodriguez, Mayor Pro Tem of Walnut, California. Andrew was elected to the Walnut, California City Council in April of 2016. At 23 years old, this election made him the youngest City Councilman in Walnut’s history and is currently one of the youngest elected officials in the state of California. In July of 2018, Andrew was elected by his colleagues to serve as Mayor Pro Tem. After graduating from Walnut High School, Andrew attended Rutgers University in New Jersey. During his time in college, Andrew worked on several political campaigns including Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s successful U.S. Senate bid. Andrew found his passion for municipal management at Rutgers, gaining experience working for a non-profit redevelopment corporation dealing with urban revitalization issues in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He also worked for a public affairs company in New York City with clients in both the private and public sectors. He now works as a land use planner for a firm in Pasadena.
In his spare time, Andrew enjoys traveling and reading. He has visited almost all 50 states and has traveled to numerous countries overseas. He spent a large part of 2014 living in Melbourne, Australia. Andrew is a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and volunteers for various causes throughout the San Gabriel Valley.
We caught up with Andrew to find out what leadership means to him and what advice he would give to the next generation of leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
My background is in city planning, and I have a passion for making cities healthier, more walkable, and more sustainable. What better way of following your passion than to work on these issues in your hometown? In addition to ensuring that our residents receive the best service possible from the City, I work with my colleagues and staff to implement innovative policies for the future, which has included updating the zoning in our city and applying new technology for public safety purposes. The world is changing faster than ever; we have to think ahead of the curve if we want our communities to thrive.
Who inspired you to get involved?
There are numerous individuals who inspired me to start on this path. Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of showing up and speaking up when it came to politics. If it weren’t for them, I would not be doing this today. President Barack Obama and Senator Cory Booker were elected officials who really inspired me when I was younger, as did urban planning icons Jane Jacobs and Chuck Marohn.
How do you define a leader?
A leader is someone who has vision, and is able to persuade others that it’s the best way forward.
What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?
Our city manager had gone to a conference and heard a presentation from the City of Beverly Hills, which started a “young professionals committee”, in order to encourage residents in their 20s and 30s to get more civically involved. I thought to myself “This could work in Walnut”, so we decided to try it out. The group was very active during our General Plan Update, which changed the zoning in some parts of the city. The members of this group showed up and voiced their support for mixed-use development, more restaurants, and diverse housing that would be more affordable for younger families. The group ultimately led the City Council to unanimously make the changes. In addition to providing input on new development, the group works on putting together cool and experiential events for residents to enjoy.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
Show up. Vote. Get involved locally. It’s amazing how much impact a person can make if they really want to give back to their community. If you stick around long enough, you will soon be on a first name basis with the city council and other local leaders. You build a reputation and eventually, you will probably be encouraged to take up a leadership role or run for office at some point!.