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By Cheyenne Haslett
When graduation season rolled around last spring, Mark Sargent, former president of the Undergraduate Student Government at the University of Connecticut, walked with his class, celebrated, and moved back to his hometown in New York.
He didn’t expect to be back in just six short months representing the Mansfield community once again.
Yet that’s exactly what he’ll do come November, once elected to the Mansfield Town Council.
Sargent is a shoe-in. The Mansfield Town Council, a nine member body, reserves three seats for the minority party, allowing six for the majority. Sargent is one of three Republican candidates running for the three seats set aside for his party, which has been the minority for over a decade.
It’s unusual for the candidates to be so assured in their victories — the Mansfield Republican Town Committee usually runs six candidates alongside the six Democratic candidates, inducing more competition for the nine spots.
But this year, nine candidates are running for nine seats — a surefire strategy for a win.
The RTC, hard hit by limited candidates, will take the time between elections to “rebuild,” said Sargent.
“We’ve got to start small with the three members that we have right now,” said Sargent.
Sargent is a 22 year old running alongside well-seasoned incumbents Virginia Raymond and Stephen Kegler.
“I have a lot to learn from them. I know there’s a huge learning curve and I’m not going to go in here saying I’m going to change this, this and that, because that’s not how politics works,” said Sargent”. “You have to understand the ropes and learn from other people who have done it before, and also learn from the Democrats.”
By the time Chairman to the Republican Town Committee Tony Lent approached him to run, all it took was a yes.
“I felt that he would be very qualified along with Virginia Raymond and Steve Kegler to continue the momentum,” said Lent. “And all we’re after is accountability and good governance.”
Sargent and the chairman go back to 2012, when the two worked together on a campaign. He calls Lent his “mentor within the town.”
Sargent, who is currently working on another campaign for a different candidate, First Selectman Tim Herbst of Trumbull, quickly accepted the offer.
“He approached me and said there’s an opportunity to be on the Town Council and I kind of just jumped on it and said, ‘Sure, I’d be more than willing to serve,’ and I didn’t really look back from there,” Sargent said.
Sargent has never held public office before, though he is well-known at UConn for his inclination to lead; North Campus Senator, President of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, student representative on the University-Town Relations Committee and, most notably, President of USG.
Yet come November, Sargent will add a notch to his resume and enter Connecticut politics afresh as the youngest serving Town Council member for the town of Mansfield.
Democratic Councilman Peter Kochenburger, a returning member in his third-term, doesn’t find it unusual that Sargent’s entry point to the political scene is lacking strong competition.
“Sure, we’ll have someone who’s brand new to Mansfield politics, who will by definition get in. I can see why that would bother some people. Is it ideal? Probably not, no, but it can work fine,” he said.
The goal, Kochenburger said, is the same whether the voters have a true choice in this election or not.
“Frankly, what you want on any elected body is you want people who have the energy, the time, the commitment to do it,” he said. He added that the town council members are not paid.
“What I’ve heard about Mark is that he will be able to do that, and I welcome that,” said Kochenburger.
Elections will be held November 3.