Meet Eugene Young, the Millennial Who Wants to Become Mayor of "Murder Town, USA"

Meet Eugene Young, the Millennial Who Wants to Become Mayor of "Murder Town, USA"

Ask Eugene Young what some people call his hometown and he doesn't hesitate to reply.

"Murder Town, USA."

Young, 33, could arguably have turned his back on Wilmington, Delaware. He won a basketball scholarship to college and earned two degrees — one in information systems, one in sociology. He had options.

But he returned — and now he's running for mayor.

Post-college, "I came back home to my neighborhood and realized that there were a lot of guys doing the same thing that they were [doing] before I left," Young recalled in an interview. "Issues with the law; in jail."

Instead of jawing about it or fleeing, Young and two friends pulled together $30,000, leaving themselves broke, and plunged it into creating Delaware Elite, a mentoring program for kids.

Eugene Young, center, is running for mayor of Wilmington, Delaware.  Courtesy of Eugene Young

That marked the start of a career in service that's led him through the nonprofit sector, the Delaware legislature and the office of Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Young, a Democrat, says mentors such as Van Jones and Booker have encouraged him as he competes against incumbent Mayor Dennis Williams, who's a former Wilmington police officer, and six other hopefuls.

Simply, Young wants Wilmington to move past being known as "Murder Town," a title earned in a 2014 Newsweek piece that pegged the city as one of the most violent of its size in the nation.

"That does not define who we are or what we're becoming," Young said. "We have a beautiful city; we have issues that many other cities in this country have, whether it is your Camdens, your Trentons, your Flints." 

Young argued the solution isn't putting more officers on the street, but access to social services and economic development capital:

"There are so many men and women who, when they come out of prison, they're not able to have the resources [on] where to go, how to get a job, how to get an expungement... It leads to many men and women going back and doing the same thing that led them into prison in the first place." 

At 33, Young is seeking elective office for the first time.  Courtesy of Eugene Young

It's a hard fight: Young finished third in the fundraising race in the last filing period, and admits it's hard battling an incumbent for donations. New filings are due in about a week, he said.

With the challenges of fundraising, the campaign's team of about 200 volunteers has become all the more critical. Young specifically enthused to a reporter that his team reflects the city's own diversity — a sign of how issues of race have surfaced in the contest in Wilmington, a majority-minority city of nearly 72,000, per Census data

While Young says he doesn't have personal issues with the incumbent, he thinks the city's politics are too compartmentalized by race and that leaders should engage "with all areas of the city, not just [a] selected few."

As with any other political campaign, Young is trying to engage with Wilmington's electorate, spreading the word via platforms like Twitter and Facebook. 

But in the age of social media, he keeps his private life mostly private.

"I don't even drink in public... We live in a digital world, where everything can go on social media," Young said. 

Eugene Young with daughter Madison and wife Nicole.  Courtesy of Eugene Young

"I have a 16-month-old daughter. I have a wife who's a college professor, who just got done with her Ph.D. I'm a family guy before anything."

Privacy isn't something that's come easily for someone who always grew up as the tallest kid in the class — but his 6'7" height has helped shape his persona: "At an early age, I realized that I could not hide. I realized I could not run... I could never be inconspicuous."

If he wins his battle for the mayoralty, that shouldn't be a problem.