For a 30-year-old business major, running for a city council seat isn’t exactly the most logical decision. Adam Swetlik, who graduated from CU Boulder in 2010 and has lived in Boulder ever since, is doing just that.
Swetlik isn’t the type of person one might expect to run for public office. The guy is tall and fit, developed from four years on CU’s rowing team and four more as a coach. Yet he’s quite unassuming. When talking about his campaign, it was difficult to get him to talk about himself much at all, instead choosing to talk about his impressions of Boulder. That’s characteristic of Swetlik’s campaign. His main reason for running centers around a need for better representation of the younger population in Boulder, which is hard to find in city politics.
“It was just to a point where I was tired of people much older than me making choices about my life that I had no input in,” Swetlik said. “I felt like it was time for someone younger to get involved, and someone younger to take it seriously too.”
Swetlik himself admitted that even if he doesn’t win a seat, the campaign won’t be a loss. Much of his reasoning for getting involved in the first place came from the 2016 presidential election cycle. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., placed significant effort on mobilizing voters in order to have better representation in the voting population. Swetlik was one of those citizens ignited by Sander’s passion and determination, so much so that he became a delegate for Sanders after the caucus.
“When he started running for president, his ideas about reducing inequality and young people getting involved, and just that everyone should have a fair shot in life, those really spoke to me,” Swetlik said. “Those are the exact things that I think we’re missing in the world.”
Tyler Romero, Swetlik’s campaign manager, met him while Swetlik was a rowing coach. Romero said that Swetlik’s respect and commitment to the crew team translated well to this election season. Though his campaign for a council seat is not particularly grand or oft-endorsed – Swetlik estimated recently that they’ve raised about $11,000, with the maximum for any campaign capping at $20,000 – Romero said that hasn’t dissuaded Swetlik from finishing out strong.
“He is not beholden to any group or special interest,” Romero said. “He simply believes in representing hardworking community members and promoting a progressive vision. I unquestionably know that he will do whatever it takes to accomplish his goals in making our community better.”
“We deserve to be heard too.”
The 2010 U.S. Census found that 51 percent of Boulder’s adult population was between the ages of 18 and 34 and that 49 percent of households make under $50,000 a year. These are the exact demographics that Swetlik wants to represent on the council.
“If we are truly supposed to be a representative democracy, we need that representation for those younger people and those people who are just lower and middle income people who are working just to stay here in Boulder,” Swetlik said. “They usually don’t have the time to get involved in local politics. We deserve to be heard too.”
He’s the youngest candidate in the race at 30 years old and arguably one of the busiest. On top of his job as product marketing manager at SparkFun Electronics, he works as a doorman at the Walrus Saloon a couple nights a week. Swetlik says he’s talked to many younger people of the area, either still in school or recent graduates, who have to have at least one job, if not two, a reality for much of Boulder’s younger demographic.
The average rent for a one bedroom apartment in the city limits is currently about $1716 a month. While MIT calculated the minimum hourly rate a full-time worker needs to earn to support themselves in the county is about $13.65, Colorado’s minimum wage is currently $9.30. Though that will rise to $10.20 in the new year, the price to live in Boulder has only increased as well, including skyrocketing housing prices.
Recently, Swetlik signed a mortgage for a one-bedroom condo. He said that he’s saved for years to have the down payment. Had he not bought the place, he would have been rent-priced out of the city, a reality for many residents even as vacancies persist.
“It’s a growth rate that’s unsustainable,” said Swetlik. “You can’t get that many people working who could also live in the town that you have the jobs in. I think it’s important that people be able to live where they work, because that’s how you build trust and care in a community.”
A long-term outlook is integral to Swetlik’s perspectives. Melissa Greenwood works at the Walrus Saloon, where she first met Adam. She said that his determination and work ethic are integral to who he is and this council race has only exemplified his commitment to the future.
“I think he sees this bigger picture, one where he realizes life is short and you have to take advantage of every moment that you can,” Greenwood said. “His days are not waste on negativity or laziness.”
Boulder’s potential separation from Xcel Energy to form its own electric utility, known as municipalization, is one of those topics that require a larger perspective. Swetlik was quick to point out that citizens, not the council, determine if the city will go ahead with it, but he also said that doing so is the only way to try and reach the city’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
Another hot topic as of recent is homelessness. Swetlik said that the city’s recent updates to their homelessness strategy is a step in the right direction by emphasizing unique solutions for people’s differing situations. However, having interacted with the community somewhat often in his doorman job, he said that the city needs to put in more short-term options as well. He called the lack of public restrooms along Boulder Creek a “travesty,” saying that it would benefit the entire community, not to mention the homeless population.
“I think we have a moral obligation to help people,” Swetlik said. “We’re supposed to be one of the smartest, most progressive cities in the nation, so if we can’t help people and help solve problems for people, I don’t really understand what we’re doing.”
In the end, Swetlik is optimistic and convinced of his future in Boulder’s politics. Even if he doesn’t get a seat and he will look into alternatives such as running for commissions and getting involved on city boards. Getting involved in this election is only the beginning for Swetlik. Though he wouldn’t have seen himself getting into politics a few years ago, he said that he’s realized a responsibility to make things better, especially as a member of the biggest generation yet. He wants younger people to start getting out of their comfort zone and encourages conversation between those who may not agree as a starting point for dealing with the current divisiveness.
“We need to be engaging with each other, especially in person, and try to make changes that are going to benefit not only our generation, but ultimately everyone,” Swetlik said. “We need to be forward thinking and continue to try and push those bounds.”
Correction: an earlier version of this article said the minimum wage is currently $8.31. It is actually $9.30, and will increase to $10.20 in 2018.
Contact CU Independent Breaking News Editor Lucy Haggard at firstname.lastname@example.org.