Political Science Grad Becomes Youngest Mayor in N.J. Town’s History
By: Nick Santangelo
Tony Perry, CLA ’12, chose Temple University because he felt “a sense of community” as soon as he stepped on campus.
“That was really an important factor for me,” says Perry. “You felt like you were a part of it, that the university was ingrained inside of what made that section of Philadelphia what it truly is. And I think the community surrounding Temple benefited, and I think the students attending Temple benefited.”
Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that the political science major has ended up working for another community, Middletown, N.J., as its youngest mayor ever. But Perry’s path to becoming the Central Jersey town’s mayor before hitting 30 stretches back further in history than to the first time he set foot on Temple’s campus.
Racing to a Career
As a kid, he was intensely drawn to the 2000 presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore with its “hanging chads,” Florida vote recount and Supreme Court ruling. The race and ensuing controversy fascinated Perry, who says he never wanted to go into anything other than politics in the 19 years since.
He credits the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) with showing him how to make it happen. Perry had former Philadelphia Mayor John Street as a professor who was able to teach from his real-life experiences and bring in high-profile guest speakers. That experience combined with another professor impressing upon Perry the need to take an internship helped him plan for and set up his future career. Perry took the advice and interned under then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
“My professors were setting me up to understand that your real-life experiences, your next steps after college were going to determine your future for years to come,” says Perry. “So, I credit the college for putting it in my head and giving me that understanding that it wasn't about what I was doing today that was going to affect me, but how I was going to take today and apply it to tomorrow. That was going to set me up for years to come.
“So I credit Temple for doing that. And for the successes that I've had in the years since I've left.”
Asked if he’d recommend current CLA students interested in politics take an internship or two, Perry says he’d go one step further and require it.
“There is no better experience that you can get than an internship,” he explains. “And it demonstrates to future employers that you stepped up and got that real-world experience while you were attaining the necessary knowledge required to do that job.”
All in a Day’s Work
To that end, Perry’s future employer ended up being a new agency created by his internship employer. Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Governor Christie formed the Sandy Recovery Division to help families in need recover from the storm.
“We just had to hit the ground running on everything that we did,” says Perry. “Every day was a new day. But, I'm still very close to some individuals that I helped along the way.
“There really was no greater feeling than being at some of these ribbon cuttings where you have been with this person every single day for two years, through the entire process, and you get to walk into the living room with them for the first time. You get to walk into their kitchen for the first time. And it's humbling.”
It seems the experience has stuck with Perry, who says his path from there to becoming mayor had its share of successes and failures. But he’s “incredibly honored” to be Middletown’s youngest mayor ever and hopes to use the position to continue helping people.
“You have to wake up every morning telling yourself that if you can help just one person, if you can make their life just a little bit easier, if you can help that business open, if you can help them with an issue, you can go home at the end of the day and put your head on the pillow, and know that you did something great.”