Despite his young age, Emanuel Wilkerson is no stranger to public service.
Six years ago, when he was barely old enough to vote himself, he was elected to the Pottstown School Board while attending high school. He was the youngest elected official in Pennsylvania at just 18 years old.
Wilkerson served on the school board for three years, resigning to study political science at Temple University. The university did not diminish his desire to serve. In fact, he put his degree to good use as a staff aide to U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean and as a legislative aide to State Representative Matt Bradford.
And now he is looking for a seat of his own again.
Wilkerson is running to represent the 24th Senate District, which includes parts of eastern Berks County and northwest Montgomery County. The seat is wide open with longtime Republican incumbent Bob Mensch announcing this year that he is stepping down from the post.
But Wilkerson will first have to pass the primary competition. He faces former Boyertown School Board member Jill Dennin for the Democratic nomination in the May 17 primary. The winner of this race will face one of two Republicans – State Rep. Tracy Pennycuick and Washington Township Supervisor David Moyer – who are seeking to be named Republicans.
Wilkerson said his experience as a school board member as well as his work for Dean and Bradford has given him the insight needed to find solutions to the challenges facing voters in the district.
“I want to take my years of public service and be an advocate for the causes that really matter to the people of this district,” he said. “We always talk about how the future is on the way, but the future is here now. I think it’s important that people who have faced these critical issues have a place around the table.
Wilkerson said funding education and strengthening local infrastructure are his two main issues, noting that these critical issues affect all communities in the district.
“Our roads are flooded, our schools are underfunded, some of our communities need economic development,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of different people, so I know these issues are the same across the district. We need to get back to a government that works for the people.
He pointed out that although the state passed a fair funding formula in 2016 designed to give all Pennsylvania students a level playing field, the formula was only used to distribute new state funds. That means without a significant increase in funding for basic education — the main stream of state funding for public school districts — the impact of the new formula is blunted.
Wilkerson said he will also fight for more funding for infrastructure projects, noting that the district needs a senator who can provide support to local municipalities so they can mitigate climate change issues facing the country is facing.
He said it’s something he has extensive knowledge of from his work at Dean’s district office. One of his main tasks was to work closely with municipalities to help them obtain grants for various projects.
“We know the funding is there with the passage of the federal infrastructure bill, but we need someone who is going to be a strong advocate to help get that money into the hands of local municipalities,” said he declared. “We need legislators who will ensure that these funds are distributed fairly and that our communities benefit.”
Wilkerson said another important issue for him is improving economic prospects in the district. He said that means advocating for development projects to revitalize communities like Pottstown, championing job creation with living wages and making child care more affordable.
“These are kitchen table issues,” he said. “These are not Republican or Democratic issues. These are issues that concern everyone and that will make our communities better.
State senators serve four-year terms and receive an annual salary of $95,432.
Meet the candidate
Candidate: Emmanuel Wilkerson, 24, Pottstown.
Job sought : State Senator from the 24th District, which includes portions of northwestern Montgomery County and Amity, Colebrookdale, District, Douglass Township, Earl’s, Hereford, Longswamp, Pike, Rockland, and Washington townships as well as Bally, Bechtelsville, Boyertown and Topton.
Current salary for the position: $95,432.
Background: Wilkerson worked as a staff aide to Congresswoman Madeleine Dean and as a legislative aide to State Representative Matt Bradford. He became Pennsylvania’s youngest public servant in 2015 when he was elected to the Pottstown School Board at age 18 while still in high school. He served on the board for three years before leaving to study political science at Temple University. He is also an officer of the Pottstown chapter of the NAACP.