Grassroots Campaign Propels Allegheny College Student to Borough Council Seat

Morgan Boyd’s campaign for New Wilmington Borough Council was “as grassroots as it gets,” he said.

“It was me and a picket sign,” the 19-year-old Allegheny College student said. And a lot of walking, talking and listening.

Running as an independent, Boyd collected the most votes — 241 — in the five-person race for four open council seats on Nov. 7. The lifelong New Wilmington resident will take office in January in the 2,200-person borough, located about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh in Lawrence County.

Boyd saw opportunities for economic growth in his hometown. So, he decided to enter the race and wasted no time in getting started. He gathered signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot, planted yard signs and pounded the pavement for face time with citizens at their homes.

“I wasn’t visibly shaking but mentally it was rough,” Boyd said of his first few door-to-door visits. But he quickly became comfortable speaking with voters about his platform and answering their questions.

“When you start going out and talking to all of those different people, you start to see this incredible diversity of ideas, of interest, of ideologies,” he said.

On the Monday before Election Day, Boyd canvassed the borough from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. And once voting began, he spent all day — from 7 a.m. when polls opened to 8 p.m. when they closed — standing outside the borough’s sole polling place to greet voters.

The most profound moment of that experience, Boyd said, came near 7:30 p.m. as the stream of voters began to wane. A senior citizen arrived at the precinct after a half-mile trek from his home using a motorized wheelchair.

“I walk over, shake his hand and say ‘Hi, I’m Morgan Boyd, and I’d appreciate your vote for council today,’” Boyd recalled. “… And he looked at me and said, ‘I know exactly who you are. You’re the reason I came here to vote tonight.’”

This is Boyd’s first elected office. He’s eager to learn but already has shown his ambition and potential for leadership. In summer 2016, Boyd attended both the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. “I was on the floor of those conventions when both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were nominated for president of the United States,” he said.

In high school, Boyd served as statewide treasurer for Pennsylvania Future Business Leaders of America, helping to manage an organization of 12,000 student members, a $2 million budget and a philanthropic effort that raised $58,000.

An economics major and philosophy minor at Allegheny, Boyd participates in the college’s law and policy program and studied philosophy at Harvard University last summer. He’s on track to finish three years of college coursework in two years.

Once his undergraduate studies are complete, Boyd plans to enter a graduate program in public policy at Carnegie Mellon University through a cooperative agreement between that institution and Allegheny. In just four years, he’s looking at earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

For now, though, Boyd is focused on the challenge of being a college student and an elected official. As a council member with a four-year term, he will head a committee, attend meetings, ensure constituents receive appropriate services and explore ways to stimulate economic development.

“So, in a small town, how can you leverage what assets you have to create the best possible standard of living for everybody?” he said. “New Wilmington has these incredible resources we can tap into … It’s all about finding how to leverage those assets to build not just business but sustainable business that is of benefit to the town.”

The New Wilmington Borough Council seat comes with responsibility — but not a paycheck. Like most of his fellow council members, Boyd will balance volunteer public service with the demands of full-time work.

“I look at college as a job,” he said. “It’s classes nine to five — then you go back, you do your work, and you show up for your classes the next day.”

Boyd is quick to deflect the spotlight when asked about winning an election at a young age, noting that voters also chose three other council members in that race. But he does hope one group in particular draws inspiration from his campaign.

“It’s totally possible for a college student to run for public office,” he said. “The problems of today will be solved by the students of today.”