Teenager runs for Montezuma mayor

Eli Pace
Summit Daily
Benjamin Goff poses for a photo on the back deck of his house in Montezuma where he lives with his mom and stepfather, Jeni and Paul Hinkley. Goff has filed to run for mayor in April’s election.
Eli Pace/Summit Daily

Fixed to the fridge at 18-year-old Benjamin Goff’s home where he lives with his mom and stepfather is a hand-drawn campaign poster with block letters reading: “Vote Goff Mayor — Make Montezuma Great Again.”

“That was more of a joke,” the high school senior quickly clarified even though he actually has filed to run for mayor of the tiny mountain town in April’s upcoming election.

Explaining the poster, Goff said he was doing “a little art thing” at school and had to make a funny advertisement. “That’s not actually my campaign slogan,” he said, adding that he’s still trying to come up with a good one and doesn’t want “to start a Twitter war with the President.”

Having turned 18 on April 16 of last year, Goff said he knows it’s humorous for someone his age to be running for mayor. Before filing, he had to go door-to-door collecting signatures to get his name on the ballot. He needed 10, but secured a few extra to be safe.

“A lot of people thought it was hilarious,” Goff said of initial reactions to his campaign petition. “But they signed it.”

It’s not just potential voters who find this funny because, according to Goff, his teachers, classmates, parents and even he himself are having fun with his early entry into politics. While the 18-year-old can laugh at his campaign, he’s also framing himself as a candidate for change while taking on some serious issues.

“It honestly just comes down to I don’t like what’s going on in town right now and someone’s got to step up and do something about it,” said Goff, getting serious. “That someone just happens to be an 18-year-old high schooler.”

On paper, the Summit County town high up in the Rocky Mountains, about five miles southeast of Keystone Ski Resort, has fewer than 70 residents. Many of those are second-homeowners, and Town Clerk Sha Miklas recently put the number of full-timers closer to 40.

With nine people running for office in the upcoming election, Goff finds himself on the ballot along with almost a quarter of the town’s full-time population, including Jeremy Nathaniel Conant, Levi Corrigan, Jay Davis, Michelle Farrell, Molly Hood, Dan Maynard and Goff’s stepfather, Paul Hinkley, who are all vying for four open seats on the town’s board of trustees.

Hinkley said some people might think he and his wife, Jeni, put Goff up to running for mayor, but that’s just not true; this project is entirely the young man’s idea.

Most important, Goff said he sees a lingering division after the town’s 2014 election, marred by charges of non-resident voter fraud and botched so badly then-Town Clerk Helen Moorman sued every one of Montezuma’s 61 registered voters in an effort to certify the results.

“Since then, the town has been pretty much split in half,” Goff said. “And one of the reasons I’m running is I don’t want to represent half the town — I want to represent the entire town.”

If elected, Goff said he also plans to take steps ensuring proper upkeep and maintenance of the town’s water tank for fire emergencies, improve relations with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and do whatever can be done to tamp down the dust that’s kicked during the warmer months.

“I personally would like to see Main Street paved,” Goff said before suggesting that packing down the road could be another option.

For his experience, Goff points to school leadership programs with which he’s been involved since middle school. He also served on student council in middle school and went on a weeklong summer camp designed to produce young leaders.

“I definitely have a lot of leadership skills, and I’ve been developing them since middle school up until now,” he said.

It’s unclear how Goff might balance being mayor and a college schedule, should he get elected and go on to attend school after graduation, but he doesn’t think it will present too much of a problem.

“I got a car,” he said. “We have emails.”

As for his chances of winning, Goff is running against incumbent Lesley Davis, and the young candidate thinks he has enough support to mount a challenge. It will be the first election in which Goff’s old enough to vote, but with his ballot — along with support from his mom and stepfather — Goff has a small, but not insignificant percentage of the vote already locked up.