Age may be just a number, but Ishan Shah of Fremont is taking the phrase to a whole new level.

The 16-year-old Mission San Jose High School student has announced his candidacy to become the city’s youngest City Council member. He will be the required eighteen years of age by election day which will take place in 2010.

Shah’s candidacy has even made national news, recently being interviewed on the Fox News Channel’s “Live Desk.”

When asked about the Fox News Channel interview, Shah had no idea it was even a nationally televised interview.

“That was national?” said Shah. “Wow, I thought that was just a local New York news station. Whoa.”

Even though he’s making national news, this isn’t just a publicity stunt for Shah.

“For me, it’s all about development,” stated Shah.

Ishan’s candidacy is unprecedented in Fremont, but not totally unheard of around the country. Hillsdale, Mich. elected an 18-year-old mayor, and Dallas, Texas recently appointed a 20-year-old college student to the Desoto Independent School District School Board.
According to the League of California Cities, young people comparable to Shah have had some limited city council success in California before.

Russell Hammer of Campbell was elected in 1972 at 18 years of age, and both Jesse James White of Riverbank and Jeremy Yamaguchi of Placentia were just elected in November 2008 at age 19.

For Shah, the experience thus far has been overwhelming.

“I was just a normal kid a few weeks ago,” stated Shah. “Now I’ve got news crews and cameras following me all the time. It’s pretty unbelievable.”

The idea for his candidacy came about after discussing and debating local issues with his friends and Fremont citizens. He credits his desire to run for office to his family.

“My parents came to this country from India with just $20 in their pocket,” said Ishan. “I’m trying to take advantage of that same American dream in my life as well.”

He also credits his political aspirations to a couple of his political heroes.

“Obviously, Barack Obama laid the blueprint and inspiration for all I’m doing,” stated Shah. “Also, Representative Pete Stark inspired me after all that I learned serving as an intern for him.”

His strongest issue is to see a new movie theatre placed in Fremont’s own Pacific Commons.

“Our current movie theatres are very spread out and in bad places,” stated Shah. “Pacific Commons is a great place in the Fremont community and a new movie theatre there would not only benefit the citizens but the local economy as well.” 

Additionally, he sees the lack of youthful minds on the council detrimental to the city.

“Lack of age differential in the council causes people on the council to not be aware of what’s going on in the community,” said Shah.

“People shouldn’t be skeptical of my ideas. Those needs that the young voters of Fremont want could coincide with what others wants,” avowed Shah.

When asked if there was one thing he wanted the voters of Fremont to know, Shah’s response was simply to “Keep your minds open. Don’t just fall victim to the same old pattern and same old faces and don’t eliminate me because of my age or lack of experience.”

Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman anticipates Shah’s campaign to be an uphill climb but appreciates his enthusiasm.

“I think it’s wonderful to see young people pursuing an interest, but historically speaking his chances are poor,” stated Wassermann.

Wasserman ran against an 18-year-old candidate during his bid for a second term on the Fremont city council and recalls the situation fondly.

“The kid didn’t do too bad, but he was never a serious contender,” said Wasserman.

Finally, Wasserman admitted that even though Shah is starting out early, there might just be too much for him to overcome.

“Ishan is going for one of two opening positions in which both incumbents are running for re-election, and neither one faces much public dislike.”

Both of those incumbents, and Bill Harrison, won their seats handily in their 2006 election.

Shah already has an exploratory committee made up of about 12 peers, including a statistician who has perfect grades in his college-level statistics class, a Web site that includes position papers, and a strategy to win by launching a “rigorous” voter registration driver in an effort to get more youth involved in voting.

Time will tell if Shah can echo the words of his political idol and offer change Fremont can believe in.

Andrew Carico can be reached at