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A College of William & Mary student has joined the race to fill three seats on Williamsburg’s City Council this spring.
Benming “Benny” Zhang, a senior from Long Island, New York who is majoring in Asian-American Studies, is the first undergraduate student to pursue a City Council seat since Councilman Scott Foster’s successful campaign in 2010.
The terms for Mayor Clyde Haulman, Vice Mayor Paul Freiling and Councilwoman Judy Knudson expire June 30. Freiling has announced his bid for re-election; Haulman and Knudson have said they will not run.
Barbara Ramsey, Elaine McBeth and Gregory Granger have also been certified to appear on ballots when citizens vote May 3. The deadline to file for candidacy expired Tuesday.
“As a constituent, I seek a Councilmember who is open-minded, relatable, and keen on the City’s immediate and long term issues,” Zhang said. “I am running because my experiences as a small business owner, member of the Public Housing Advisory Committee, participation in local boards and working in local and state government have put me in a unique position, which I will use to lead Williamsburg in its decision-making process.”
Zhang said he plans to remain in the City of Williamsburg after his May graduation to attend graduate school in pursuit of a career in public interest law.
Though he has never run for public office, he has experience with elections beyond voting: He volunteered as an elections officer in 2012 when he was a freshman. Zhang has also volunteered his time on the Public Housing Advisory Committee and Jamestown-Yorktown Revolutionary Society, and is a member of the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance.
Zhang, who dubbed his campaign “My Neighbor, Benny” in an effort to reflect a community-oriented focus, outlined his goals in a YouTube video on Sunday: better engage students, promote economic vitality and support housing regulations that fit both the student population and greater community.
“There are issues where we need to be willing to be bold while maintaining our identity as a City,” Zhang said. “I am firmly committed to maintaining the intricate balance between quality of life and economic vitality. I will use my experiences as a student, an emerging young professional, and a local resident to advance the City’s interests.”