On top of being one of just 100 recipients of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship and beginning his studies at Princeton University this fall, Middlesex College graduate Thomas Emens can now add a historic political win to his resume.
“It was exhilarating to be a part of the midterms (on Nov. 8) as a candidate for borough council in Jamesburg,” said Emens. “I am humbled and honored to have been elected to serve my community as their youngest and first openly gay councilman.”
Emens, who is 20 years old and ran on the Democratic ticket, said he will take office on Jan.4, and his three-year term will see him up for re-election in 2025 — his senior year at Princeton, where he is studying politics.
“Over the years, I learned that one person might not be able to change the world on their own, but one person has the capacity to change someone else’s life or their community for the better,” said Emens. “That is the outlook that drives my mission in public service and inspired me to get involved with politics.”
As a young person, it was difficult for him to navigate the political arena, said Emens, but from the moment he announced his candidacy in March, during his final semester at Middlesex College, his spirits were buoyed by the counselors and professors he considers his mentors.
“That support and encouragement made all the difference in the world,” he said.
He said his community-college education shaped him as a well-rounded candidate because it afforded him the opportunity to explore a variety of subjects and to discover what kind of leader he wanted to be.
Moreover, since many of his professors and classmates were local to the county, he said it gave him a good sense of its constituents and what issues were dearest to them.
“My experiences at Middlesex and the education I received as a student there helped prepare me for this moment,” he said.
Emens said it was also instructive to see his concerns reflected in the union representing the college’s full-time faculty, Local 1940 American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
“Standing in solidarity with Local 1940 AFT and being a resident of a smaller town in Middlesex County that is often left behind by the political establishment gave me a clear sense of why I was entering politics — to fight for the people who aren’t being heard,” he said.
The campaign Emens ran alongside incumbent Samantha Rampacek was committed to diversity, inclusion and coalition-building, he said, and counted a record number of young people on its team.
“Government is at its best when our institutions look like the people they represent, which is why it is so important for young people to get involved,” he said. “When young people answer the call to serve their communities, it breathes new life into institutions and helps move communities forward.”
He said he is proud he and Rampacek were able to garner the support of Jamesburg residents from diverse backgrounds and walks of life.
“To me, our campaign was one by residents and for residents,” Emens said.
Despite his youth, Emens brings a wealth of experience to the elected position — one of Jamesburg’s six borough-council seats, according to the Middlesex County Democratic Organization’s website.
According to an article published by CentralJersey.com, Emens made local history in 2020 when he joined the Jamesburg Public Library’s board of trustees, becoming the borough’s youngest-ever public official.
Additionally, over the past year he has served as the board’s secretary and chairman of the library’s Policy and Strategic Planning committees, according to the article.
Rejuvenating the library is something he said he plans to make a top priority of his.
“I’ve been working with my colleagues on the board of trustees for the past year to revitalize the library, and I am committed to continuing that work on the council as the mayor’s Representative to the Board,” he said.
Moreover, Emens said he hopes his candidacy opens the door for other young people in the county to run for office.
“I encourage every student at Middlesex to get involved — whether it is voting in future elections, volunteering for a campaign, or maybe even putting their names on a ballot,” he said.
“If I can do it, you can too,” he said. “You have the capacity to shape the future.”