Part-time student, 17, was force behind Steubenville mayoral victory

Steubenville mayor with campaign manager, Alex McKenna


Ever heard of a campaign manager that didn’t vote for the candidate he was promoting?

Not many people have, at least until Steubenville’s recent mayoral election, where local businessman Jerry Barilla won a decisive victory, carrying 63 percent of the city’s vote. Behind Barilla’s victory was campaign manager Alex McKenna, who didn’t vote for Barilla because, well, he isn’t old enough.

McKenna, a senior in high school who has taken a few classes at Franciscan University, is 17 years old.

Despite not being old enough to vote in the Nov. 7 election, McKenna is hardly a newcomer to politics. He became interested in politics at the age of 12, during the 2012 presidential election. McKenna said that he convinced his mother to drive him to the Pittsburgh headquarters for the Mitt Romney campaign so that he could volunteer.

“When I got there, I just started making phone calls,” said McKenna. “There was one woman that wasn’t quite sure who to vote for, and I was able to convince her to vote for Mitt Romney. That single phone call sparked something inside of me and made me realize that this is something I want to continue doing.”

Since then, McKenna has volunteered on a total of seven campaigns, including local, state and federal elections.

When it came to this year’s mayoral race, McKenna became involved after his employer took his resume and showed it to Barilla.

“(My employer) showed Mr. Barilla my resume and said, ‘Hey, you might want to look into this kid. He could really help you,’” said McKenna.

McKenna said that he was originally slated to be a volunteer on Barilla’s campaign, but eventually made his way onto Barilla’s advisory council, where it was clear that there was more he could do.

McKenna said that there wasn’t anyone on the advisory council that was in a position to deal with the day-to-day operations that the campaign needed in order to be successful, which led to him becoming the campaign manager.

“Before I took the job, we wanted to make sure that we were right for each other,” said McKenna. “I wanted to make sure that we saw eye-to-eye on policy, and he wanted to make sure that I could handle everything that being campaign manager involved. This was the right fit.”

As campaign manager, McKenna was responsible for details, from purchasing signs for people’s lawns and posting 2-3 times a day on social media to making budgetary decisions on how to spend the campaign’s money. He said that he would always ask for advice from others when he ran into issues, which helped him greatly.

When election day came around, McKenna and Barilla were fairly confident that Barilla would pull out the win, but they couldn’t be totally sure. However, when McKenna received the unofficial vote tally, it became clear that Barilla was going to win by a landslide.

McKenna strode into Froelich’s Classic Corner Restaurant, where the Barilla election watch party was being held, and declared victory shortly before 10 p.m. Barilla had defeated his Democratic opponent by more than 1,000 votes.

Reflecting on the experience, McKenna said that the long days and countless hours were worth it, though he had a difficult time adjusting other aspects of his life, such as work and school, while focusing on the campaign. However, he said, there were two things that helped him grow and allowed him to get through the long days of campaigning.

“Number one was the importance of prayer,” said McKenna. “I went to Mass every day during the campaign, and that saw me through those long days. Second, this campaign helped me trust in God. I knew that I could do everything in my power to help Mr. Barilla win, but in the end, the result was in God’s hands.”

McKenna said that he took an introductory politics class at Franciscan, which helped him see politics “from the bottom up.” McKenna’s professor in the class, Stephen Krason, who holds a doctorate in political science, said that seeing one of his students take an active role in politics at such an early point in his life “is very encouraging.”

Now that the election is over, McKenna said that Barilla has asked to continue running his social media and join the mayoral cabinet, which McKenna has accepted. He is still taking high school classes, including two classes at the university this semester.

After graduation, McKenna hopes to study political science at Franciscan and a attain a master’s degree in either public policy, law or international diplomacy in the hopes of one day becoming an ambassador.

Whatever he ends up doing, one can be sure that McKenna will be doing it for the greater glory of God, and nothing, he agrees, can top that.

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