Teen Mayor Takes Charge of Oregon Town

At just 18 years old, Kyle Corbin was recently inaugurated as mayor of Union, Ore. Voters hope that Corbin's fresh young face will end years of political bickering among senior-citizen-age city council members.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

This month, 18-year-old Kyle Corbin was sworn in as mayor of Union, Oregon. He won the election as a write-in candidate. And there is hope he'll be able to end years of political bickering in the northeastern Oregon town.

Reporter Chana Joffe-Walt spent inauguration day with the young mayor.

CHANA JOFFE-WALT: So I know you want to hear from the young mayor, but he is a quiet, kind of nerdy guy. Hang on a minute, and he'll warm up. First, meet his mom, Sharon Corbin, who is not shy at all. She works at the local gas station. She says now that her son is trailed by camera crews and people like me, it's kind of weird and fun.

Ms. SHARON CORBIN: We're always talking funny, you know, and Kyle of all these sophisticated things.

JOFFE-WALT: Take the other day. Corbin called his parents to give them a heads up that he and a camera crew were heading over to the house.

Ms. CORBIN: And he says we're going to be there in about half an hour. And we said okay. So then he calls, again, and he says okay dad, we're coming right now. And his dad says okay, I'll get on my boxer shorts. And Kyle just kind of tentatively said okay, dad.

JOFFE-WALT: Corbin has had to work hard to control his parents and to get voters to take him seriously. He went door to door for months. That helped. But the truth is, and everyone in Union knows this, his win had almost nothing to do with him.

Just ask Lisa Arnet(ph) at the local hardware store.

Ms. LISA ARNET: We've had a lot of difficulties in the politics. We need to be able to get out of those difficulties. And I think with a newer perspective, it's going to change.

JOFFE-WALT: Arnet and the dozens of other people I talked to made it clear the 2,000 residents of Union, Oregon, have not been getting along. Mayors have been recalled. There have been phone threats, rumors, nasty editorials. One time, a scuffle at a city council meeting landed a 77-year-old woman in the hospital. It was ugly. Corbin remembers it.

Mr. KYLE CORBIN (Mayor of Union, Oregon): People would argue, but it seemed as though they didn't really know what they were arguing about.

JOFFE-WALT: Corbin campaigned and won on leaving pettiness and conflict in the past. That made him the right person at the right place and the right time.

Kyle Corbin arrives for his inauguration this evening in a black suit and tie. His mom gave him a shirt for tonight that says mommy's little mayor, but he chose not to wear that. Still, Corbin stands out as he takes his place in a row of city council people. They all have gray hair, except for two guys and they just don't have a lot of hair.

After some business, the outgoing mayor, Willard Bertrand, gives his speech, and it's harsh. It seems this guy has definitely been scarred by the political battles in Union.

Mr. WILLARD BERTRAND (Outgoing Mayor of Union, Oregon): After all the time you put into your effort, there are many, many who will disagree with you. And they will try to stop you.

JOFFE-WALT: Corbin's speech has a completely different tone - more student body president optimism, which by the way, he was student body president just last year.

Mayor CORBIN: Today, we inherit a Union that at a 128 years old, a Union rich in tradition - tradition of unity, togetherness and community.

JOFFE-WALT: Kyle Corbin is officially Union, Oregon's, mayor. After the exciting transition, the council moves on to action item new business day and all the other minutia of city politics. Much of the audience leaves, especially the younger crowd, but then Yong Iverson(ph), Corbin's friend from high school stays put.

So I scoot over to whisper to her.

Do you find any of these things interesting?

Ms. YONG IVERSON: No, how about you?

JOFFE-WALT: Do you understand what Kyle finds interesting about this?

Ms. IVERSON: No.

JOFFE-WALT: (unintelligible)

For NPR News, I'm Chana Joffe-Walt.

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