LANCASTER - The only person so far on the November ballot for the mayor of Lancaster is a 17-year-old high school student.
Clayton Lunsford is a junior at Lancaster High School, and he'll be 18 in August.
He's always been interested in politics and first had the idea to run for mayor after the November 2015 election. With the 2016 presidential election and Brian Kuhn's resignation, Lunsford realized Lancaster might be ready for someone like him in office.
"With this presidential election, I saw that some Americans are ready for change," Lunsford said. "Maybe Lancaster is ready for change. I could be that change."
Lunsford is running as an independent nominee, though he considers himself pretty conservative, and his petition for candidacy was confirmed by the Board of Elections at their meeting on March 2. The deadline for submission is Aug. 14. No one else has submitted a petition yet. The candidate who wins the Nov. 7 election will finish out the rest of Kuhn's term, which will be about two years at that time.
Lunsford didn't think he would have the opportunity to run for mayor. He first talked with his friends. They were supportive.
Caleb Bradford, one of those friends Lunsford looked to for advice, said that he's been trying to convince him to run since news broke of the Bridget Kuhn's indictment. Politics in the area, Bradford said, seemed shady.
"We're still influenced by the community, and we care enough that we don't want to leave," Bradford said.
Then, Lunsford sought advice about the logistics of running for mayor from his government teacher. He didn't tell his parents of his plan until he realized it was possible.
"If I were elected, I would put off college," he said. "If the people elect me, this would be my full focus."
To finish out the remainder of his senior year, Lunsford said he would pursue online schooling during the first year in office, giving him flexibility with his schedule.
He's been asked time and time again if he's serious about running for mayor. "I am more than serious," Lunsford said. "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think I could have a positive impact."
But he understands the questions. He doesn't exactly have the experience that most mayoral candidates have. "I understand that on paper, I don't look the most qualified," he said. "I've never even had a job, not even graduated."
A lot of people have told him to wait to run for mayor until he's older. "I believe Lancaster needs change now, and I don't want to miss that window," Lunsford said.
What he lacks in experience, though, Lunsford said he makes up for with passion and commitment. He said he's willing to put in "more work than anyone else."
He's hoping to bolster the city's transparency, streamline the government and spending and fix the roads. While petitioning, Lunsford said people asked him what he planned to do about the roads over and over.
"Some of them are just in horrible condition," he said.
Lunsford is also concerned about the city's drug problem, calling it "scary" and noting he wants to crack down on dealers with harsher punishments.
He's talked with citizens, listened to their concerns, and said he wants to help. He's hoping to work with politicians of all affiliations to accomplish his goals.
Other young mayors have given Lunsford hope that he can do this, too. He's been doing research about what made those campaigns successful.
19-year-old Brandon Paulin is currently the mayor of Indian Head, Maryland, which has a population of about 3,800.
A city more comparable to Lancaster, John Tyler Hammons served as the mayor of Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2008 to 2012. He was a college freshman when elected.
"Being so young, I need all the help I can get with this election," Lunsford said.
He's hoping, now that his petition has been certified, to reach out to local law enforcement and city council, as well as further research the city's drug problem.
Lunsford realizes the area he's working within. President Donald Trump received 60 percent of the votes in Fairfield County. Lunsford considers himself conservative but is open to working with more liberal ideas if they're effective. He feels he has fresh ideas that could help the city.
If the election doesn't go in his favor, Lunsford said he's looking to finish high school and go to college, possibly for applied mathematics or astrophysics. Politics may be in his future again later down the road.
The next Fairfield County Republican mayoral nominee won't be announced until this summer, party chair Jeff Fix previously told the Eagle-Gazette.
While the Democratic party has not voted on a nominee, Greg Russell said party leaders already know of his interest and his appointment is all but guaranteed.
Russell, a Democrat, lost to Kuhn in the November 2015 election by about 1,550 votes.