Teens now have a say in New York City’s government

NEW YORK — Rashana Jackman is not old enough to vote in an election, but she could soon have a vote on a city-appointed board that takes influential stands on neighborhood issues.

At 17, the Brooklyn high school junior is considering applying to serve on her community board, under a new state law that lets 16- and 17-year-olds join the panels that function as front lines of local government in the nation’s biggest city.

The advisory but oft-heeded groups discuss zoning changes and liquor license applications, consult on city budgeting for local projects, and serve as conduits for community concerns.

‘‘It’s a great opportunity for me to make a change in my community,’’ said Jackman, who’s interested in education, health, and social services in the diverse Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.


In allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to hold up to two of each board’s 50 seats, New York is among communities nationwide giving school-age folk more of an adult-sized say in government. The idea has sparked some debate about whether teens are prepared to weigh issues and regulations that can elude adults.

Teens have occasionally been tapped for New York’s community panels in the past. City Comptroller Scott Stringer was 16 when appointed to a community board in 1977, an experience the veteran politician says ‘‘has stayed with me my entire career.’’

‘‘Through a teenager’s eyes, you were really part of the government. You had a formal role in decision-making,’’ he recalls.

But members generally have been 18 and older — usually far older. The new state law enshrines a voting role for younger teens, who can apply early next year for terms starting in April on 59 boards citywide.

Advocates say youths should have a part in decisions about their neighborhoods and their participation grooms future leaders and give current ones a next-generation perspective.


‘‘It helps young people get invested in their communities, and I really believe that 16- and 17-year-olds have a lot to contribute,’’ said state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Democratic former community board member who spearheaded the law with Republican state Senator Andrew Lanza.

About 20 students listened at a Brooklyn high school this month as officials described how a community board seat could give them a voice on everything from parks to police.

‘‘It is allowing you to say, ‘I want to talk about stop and frisk. I want to talk about whether cops should be in my school,’ ’’ Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams said.

Across the nation, some school boards have student representatives, sometimes as voting members; Los Angeles’s massive school district is planning for a nonvoting student representative after protests this spring.