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A Student of Government

James Kern, New Jersey’s youngest mayor, applies the theoretical gleaned in the Rutgers classroom to the practical in running Pohatcong Township.

James Kern lll
"It’s definitely been a learning experience for me,” says James Kern, who majored in political science. “I learned a lot of this stuff in the classroom at Rutgers. The practical stuff that you learn from being involved is a great education as well.” Photography by Benoit Cortet

As a political science major at Rutgers, James Kern III learned plenty about the workings of the American system of government. But he’s received an entirely different sort of political education during the two years that he has spent as the youngest mayor in New Jersey.

The 24-year-old chief executive of Pohatcong Township (population 3,400), in New Jersey’s rural Warren County, Kern SAS’10 was just 22 when he took the mayoral oath of office on July 1, 2011. A year earlier, just six weeks removed from his graduation from Rutgers, Kerns won a seat on the township council, having been motivated to run by what he deemed the council’s inadequate response to a proposed road project. In the nonpartisan mayoral election, Kern, a registered Republican, won in a landslide, receiving more than 60 percent of the votes.

“It’s definitely been a learning experience for me,” Kern says. “I learned a lot of this stuff in the classroom at Rutgers. The practical stuff that you learn from being involved is a great education as well.”

As mayor, Kern, who describes himself as a “very big fan” of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, has focused on keeping down local property taxes and exploring a possible merger of the police department. To supplement his $2,000 annual salary, he works for the State Farm Insurance Company.

He says he hasn’t thought about whether he’ll seek a second term as mayor; for now, he’s happy to continue his on-the-job education. He’s learned, for example, that a routine trip to the supermarket is rarely routine, not when constituents want to bend his ear about local government. “It can turn into a mini–town hall meeting,” Kern says. “Quick trips to stores aren’t quick anymore.”
— Christopher Hann