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Teen candidate not kidding around

Jay Leonardi Auror4th Ward aldermanic candidate

Jay Leonardi, Aurora 4th Ward aldermanic candidate

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Updated: December 19, 2012 11:58AM

It was about four years ago that Jay Leonardi announced he was going to run for 4th Ward alderman in Aurora.

In order to be eligible, however, he had to turn 18.

So he waited. An extra year, as it turned out.

The city’s youngest City Hall candidate won’t even turn 20 for a few months — but don’t let his chronological age fool you: This is not your typical teen. Or your typical politician.

“I’ve always been an old soul,” admitted the sophomore at Waubonsee Community College, who plans to return to the University of Chicago next year to major in pre-law or pre-medicine. “In first grade, Mrs. McPherson told my mom I was more interested in talking about her husband’s insurance policy than what the class was discussing.”

And he’s still marching to the beat of a different generation — at the ripe old age of 19.

While his college friends were sitting on football stadium bleachers, playing video games or out partying this fall, Leonardi spent weekends collecting enough signatures from the 4th Ward so he could officially file his candidacy petition on Monday. And he’s already making plans to knock on the doors of every house in the ward so residents can see for themselves he’s more than just a kid playing grown-up.

Talk with him for just a few minutes and it becomes apparent Leonardi is dead serious about improving Aurora. He says he’s always been involved in the community, but working in the long-time family business, Leonardi Appliance, and getting to know other business owners, made him realize the city is “not friendly to small businesses,” which he believes must change in order to secure Aurora’s future.

“We need to reach out to small businesses and not wait for them to reach out to us,” he said. “They need to know that the city is working for them, not against them.”

Leonardi knows his opponents — also running in the 4th Ward is Mike Leonardi, his father’s second cousin — might use his youth against him. But he insists it’s “not about my experience.” It’s about understanding the experiences of his constituents. “They need to know I’m fighting for them,” he said. “I can get along really well with others, but I’m not going to be someone who just rubber stamps things.”

And he sees his high energy and youthful passion as a definite plus. “Decisions made today will affect my kids,” he said. “Aurora has a diverse population that makes it a great place to live and work. But we need to find fresh ideas, fresh vision to make it great again.”

When I asked him to name a few of those ideas, Leonardi quickly threw out a long list, including an MLS-like business data base, expedited permit and zoning processes, incentives to young entrepreneurs and hiring a city manager.

And he has lots more, if you give him a few more minutes of your time.

Dan and Julie Leonardi had a few concerns when their son told them this summer he was throwing his hat in the ring, Yes, they knew what an old soul their kid had always been. Yes, they knew how driven and hard working he was. But before giving their teenager their full support, his parents quizzed him extensively.

“I couldn’t believe the ideas he had,” Dan Leonardi said with a laugh. “I asked him, ‘Jay, where have you been storing all this information .... where did you get this passion?’”

When I asked the young candidate a similar question, he replied with an age-old response.

“I am doing what I was meant to do ... to serve. That’s just the way I have always been.”

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