COLUMBIA — Some people were a little surprised Sean O'Day was collecting signatures for mayor.
“It would just be kind of funny. I’d say, ‘I’m wanting to run for mayor,’ and they’d look at me and go ‘You?’”
709 Bluffdale Drive
PERSONAL: Age 23. He is single.
OCCUPATION: Point of sale coordinator at Patricia's Foods.
EDUCATION: Attended MU for one year; now pursuing a bachelor's degree in physics at Moberly Area Community College.
BACKGROUND: Member of the Dog Pound Art Collective.
ON THE WEB: O'Day has a campaign page on Facebook.
That’s because at 23, Sean O’Day is the youngest mayoral candidate by 16 years, and he’s 54 years younger than incumbent Mayor Darwin Hindman. Some of the markers of his age are present: He lives in a rented apartment with three roommates, he's enrolled in college, and his campaign rallies continue well into the night.
O’Day is quick to point out that he’s not focused on just the youth vote.
“Youth (issues) are not my main objective. I do think it’s important to get youth involved, but I first wanted to make sure I focused on the established people here and long-term residents and talk to them,” he said
O’Day doesn’t think his age should be an issue, but he said it could help him offer some fresh perspective. Still, he knows it might bother some.
“As it stands, City Council is mostly retirees,” O’Day said. “I’d like to see a broader spectrum get involved.”
O’Day grew up in Hallsville — about 16 miles north of Columbia — with his parents and five siblings. He said his parents were surprised when he told them he was running for mayor, but they have been supportive.
“(My parents) definitely did the ‘wait, what?’” O’Day said. “They sat me down, talked to me just about how I needed to hold myself. They’re very excited.”
O’Day said his family has been responsive to his campaign. His father, Philip O'Day, attended his most recent rally at the Blue Fugue, and his brother Kyle has helped him gather up campaign materials.
Philip O’Day said that his son was "just an average little guy” and that he was always reading. He also was interested in science and participated on his high school's math and quiz bowl teams.
His older sister Caitlin O’Day said she remembers her brother teaching himself to read before he was 4. Not much has changed since then. O’Day said he reads five books at any given time. Two of his favorites are Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” and Ken Kesey’s “Sometimes A Great Notion.”
O’Day graduated from Hallsville High School in 2005 and started college at MU. He left in 2007 because he couldn’t afford the tuition.
“I’ve always been self-educated,” O’Day said. “Being out of school was not a bad thing for me.”
O’Day is passionate not just about reading but also about education overall.
“I think it’s important, having an educated society,” O’Day said. “I make a big fuss about civil liberties, and having freedoms is an important part of being educated. “
O’Day is currently studying physics at Moberly Area Community College.
“What little kid doesn’t want to be an astronaut?” O’Day said.
O'Day said he'd eventually like to go to a school where he could work in a jet propulsion lab. As for now, April 6 takes priority.
"This is the new dream," he said.
As he was growing up in Hallsville, O’Day didn’t really consider politics.
“I’ve always been interested in the things that are going on. I think it was, in retrospect, fairly obvious that I would get involved, but I never really had any ambition to,” O'Day said.
But his sister Caitlin said she is not surprised her brother entered politics. She said he isn't the type to just sit by and watch things happen, and their dad agreed.
O'Day's friend and campaign manager, Phillip Berrong, said O'Day talks to people about upsetting situations and then works to change them.
Over the summer, Berrong, O'Day and a group of their friends spent time at a creek in Rock Bridge State Park. Berrong said that as the creek got crowded over the summer, a lot of trash built up.
"We just went down there to hang out, and (the trash) bothered Sean. He convinced everyone to spend our afternoon picking everything up," Berrong said. "We carried a few bags of trash out of that place."
O’Day said that when he first started talking about running for mayor, he wasn't sure he'd ever take the plunge. “I mentioned it kind of off-hand to some people, but then it kind of took root and went from there.”
Philip O'Day said the campaign really took off when his son started going out and talking to people. "When he started gathering signatures I knew he was really serious about this."
O’Day hit a bump at the beginning of his campaign. Just when he thought “he was getting a chance to catch a breath,” his petition was rejected after it was submitted to the city clerk's office because it lacked enough valid signatures.
“I was a little discouraged at first," he said. "I sat down with some people, and we talked about it. I decided that we had already put a lot of time into it, and so we might as well (try again).”
His second submitted petition was valid, and O’Day found a place on the ballot.
“My schedule has become a thousand times more hectic," he said. "The busier I can keep myself, the better I feel.”
At campaign events, O'Day does more than prepare a speech and talk to voters. Both his rallies at the Blue Fugue featured live musicians, including O'Day's bands. He's in three: Explodacon, B-Sides and The Greatest Hits. He sings and plays guitar and bells.
"Explodacon is a pretty big group of friends, about 12," O'Day said. "There is a lot of different instrumentation. There are pots and pans being beat on, and we have a trash-can drum."
At his most recent rally, O'Day played with The Greatest Hits. Berrong is also a member and played the glass bottle during the performance. On stage, O'Day showed a more relaxed, goofy side than the more serious and sometimes nervous presentation he has at forums.
"This is not the same Sean O'Day who is running for mayor," he said to the audience. "That Sean O'Day speaks well. This Sean O'Day speaks good. That's right, I'm trying to confuse you."
Their music is both folksy and lively, with an obvious hint of improvisation.
O'Day said his friends have been "instrumental with helping on the campaign."
"They've reminded me that sometimes I'm nervous when I really shouldn't be," O'Day said.
O'Day's father sees a connection between his son's musical experience and campaign.
"Being a musician and running for mayor — they both take a lot of courage," he said.
Caitlin said her brother is comfortable talking with people and doesn't shy from starting conversations.
"He knows how to work a room," she said. "He came to visit me and just started talking to people. By the end of the weekend, he had a bunch of new friends."
O'Day and Berrong emphasized the events are rallies and not fundraisers.
"The only money we're spending is a few bucks here and there. We'd much rather have donations of time," Berrong said. "This campaign isn't about spending money. It's about talking to people, and Sean is good at that."