Cam Galindo explains why he’s a credible city council candidate while sitting in his mother’s living room. In the middle of the interview, his little brother comes home from school.

During a photo shoot on his Nordale Crescent home in Stoney Creek, neighbourhood kids photo-bomb him, hamming it up behind him. And it’s easy to see why they do it — not long ago, he was one of them.

At 19, Galindo is one of the youngest candidates for city council in this fall’s municipal election. He’s running for Ward 9. The current Ward 9 councillor, Brad Clark, is running for mayor, so the race is wide open.

That’s heartening for the Colombian native and McMaster University student who arrived in Canada as a refugee 12 years ago. He’s also heartened by the knowledge that in Hamilton, sometimes the young candidates win.

In 1972, 20-year-old Sean O’Sullivan, of Hamilton, became what was then the youngest-ever Member of Parliament. He was a Progressive Conservative, and served until 1977, when he left for the priesthood. (Pierre-Luc Dusseault, an NDP MP from Quebec, was elected in 2011 at age 19 and is now Canada's youngest-ever MP.)

Hamilton’s longest serving mayor, Bob Morrow, got a young start too. At age 22, he ran for council and won. But because of his youth, he didn’t own property, which was a requirement then. His father had transferred some property to him so he could be a candidate but the lawyer didn’t register it in time, Morrow said. Morrow’s dad ran and won the seat in the meantime, and two years later, Morrow won the election again and became a councillor.

Chad Collins of Ward 5, now a long-time councillor, was a McMaster student working at Blockbuster when he was elected.

These stories are comforting to Galindo, who serves on the Ontario premier’s advisory council for youth innovation and the Hamilton youth advisory committee, among other roles. He’s working four jobs to help pay for his campaign.

“There are many things that prevent young people from running,” he said. “People say you’re too young to run, or that you have no experience.”

“I think it’s not so much how old you are that classifies experience, but how involved you are.”

Hamilton's record 'actually impressive'

Under-25s getting elected is still rare, said Peter Graefe, a McMaster University political science. When it happens, it's more common at the municipal level. The exception to this is when a party does a surprise sweep, just as the NDP in Quebec in the 2011 election, and people who never thought they’d be elected are swept into office.

The number in Hamilton’s history is “actually impressive,” Graefe said.

“To have two or three in Hamilton is already a bit more than average.”

While political parties tend to be a little more ageist, in municipal elections, “candidates come out and say what the election is about, and it’s must more built around individual personality," he said.

Even so, young winning candidates tend to have a party affiliation. Sheila Copps, who first ran at age 24 and lost by 13 votes, came from a well-known political family. Collins’s mother, Shirley, was a former councillor and Liberal MPP.

Enthusiasm counts…and so does money

Young candidates stand the best chance when they have party backing, and when there is no incumbent, Graefe said. And hooking up to a “party machine” helps with fundraising.

Chad Collins

Chad Collins, 43, was elected when he was 24. He's still the youngest member of city council. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

“Credibility is one of the big challenges,” he said. “Are they seasoned enough to make decisions? A sort of compensating feature is that they can claim to be breaths of fresh air, and that they haven’t been corrupted by politics.”

At 43, Collins is still the youngest person on council. He first ran in 1994 when he was 23 and lost to Dominic Agostino.

A year later, Agostino vacated his seat to run provincially, and Collins won in a byelection. Even with a well-known mother, he had significant challenges.

The biggest was money. He already had school-related debts when he sunk about $7,500 into his first campaign. 

Working at Blockbuster to pay for campaign

Friends and family helped, but he also worked at Blockbuster and as a bartender at Hamilton Place, and the lion’s share of his salary went to his campaign. He also held garage sales.

“I was trying to do everything I could,” he said. “I was taking extra shifts at my retail job.”

Running another campaign a year later sunk him farther into debt, as did another election in 1997.  When he first ran, some said, “You’re a little too young, but we’ll vote for you next time.”

“I said ‘OK, thank you,’” he recalled. When he knocked on their doors again a year later, he reminded them, and “they followed through on their promise.”

Galindo’s background is a little different from Hamilton’s past young candidates. He’s a native of Colombia, born in a city ruled by drug cartels.

His father Adolfo was a taxi driver. Taxi drivers were frequently carjacked and supposed to quietly accept it, Galindo said. His dad was carjacked and reported it to the police.

Came to Canada as a refugee

That angered the cartel, who made several attempts on his life. His father was having a drink with a friend at a local bar when someone, likely aiming for Galindo’s father, shot through the window and killed his friend.

Galindo’s family moved to Connecticut when he was six, then settled in Hamilton. Galindo decided in second grade that he would devote his life to public service.

In addition to the city youth committee and the premier’s council, he’s served as a consultant on a Ministry of Education council. He’s volunteered with Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Hamilton-Burlington, and at local museums, including the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. He volunteers with St. Joseph’s as a greeter in the urgent care and dialysis unit.

Galindo wasn’t planning to run for council yet, but when Clark announced his mayoral run, Galindo rallied. Money is an issue. He’s not used to raising it and is still learning how to ask.

His campaign team is varied and includes many friends from McMaster, where he’s studying economics and political science.

Democracy open to everyone with work ethic and 'a little bit of money'

“I’ve been completely surprised by the support in the community,” he said.

Collins worries about the future of young people in politics. When he ran, he said, a decent campaign cost $10,000 to $20,000. These days, for a similar campaign, “you’re easily into the $25,000 range," he said.

“The fact that years later, I’m still the youngest person on council says something,” he said.

The beauty, though, is that despite rising costs, anyone can run for office.

“Our system isn’t perfect, but it certainly allows for full participation,” Collins said. “If people work hard and have a strong team of family and friends, and have the ability to raise a little bit of money, then they can get elected.”