Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic worries that there are not enough young people willing to run for elected office, but State Rep. Emilia Sykes of Akron thinks otherwise. She suggests older people are in the way.

“There’s no leadership out there,” Akron’s longest-serving mayor said of the next generations. “There’s nothing behind all these guys who are leaving. I stepped up and I might argue I do a pretty good job. But you don’t know who’s out there, who is willing to step in next.”

Plusquellic, with more than 40 years in public office, will let the public know this year whether he will run for election to an eighth term, taking him to age 70.

Therein lies a workplace challenge, according to younger folks such as Sykes: Baby boomers are hanging onto jobs beyond age 65.

“I know people who are younger and interested in office,” said Sykes, 28. “They are hesitant because they don’t think there’s a space for them.”

This year, she took over the legislative seat held by her mother or father the last 30 years.

While Sykes acknowledges that she had the advantage of her family’s name during her campaign, she had to dispel some voters’ thoughts that she was too young. Her opposition in the Democratic primary was silver-haired Summit County Councilman Frank Comunale, who also had the benefit of a recognizable name.

“We need our longer-serving leaders to perhaps step aside and give us the knowledge to move the state and county forward,” Sykes said.

The Pew Research Center shows that Sykes’ generation is highly engaged in social networks and civic causes, but does not associate as much with organized politics. More than any other generation in American history, millennials are more likely to identify themselves as independent voters than Democrat or Republican.

Their turnout for Barack Obama in 2008 was critical to his election.

As a member of the Summit County Young Democrats, Sykes said they’re often called on by established leaders to help with campaigns or other tasks. “We have to do our share of the lifting,” Sykes said.

But there needs to be a two-way street with mentorship, she said.

Sykes said she was fortunate that her family was able to help guide her in her campaign, but most new candidates don’t know things like how your life is going to change, how to make a good speech or how to stick with your values.

“There’s nothing like that for young candidates,” she said.

“We need someone to teach us. Eventually the current established leaders are going to leave and if they’re not teaching us enough to do their job, it’s not going to benefit anyone,” Sykes said.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.