Councilor Jacob Shaw speaks at a Presque Isle Council meeting on Jan. 8. Credit: David Marino Jr. | Presque Isle Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Presque Isle City Councilor Jake Shaw is, by far, the youngest member of the Star City’s elected government at age 27. And as the only 20-something on the council, he has taken on a broader crusade: to keep Presque Isle’s youth in the city and to make them civically engaged.

Since he was elected in 2018, Shaw has tried to be an example for Presque Isle’s younger residents. As many Presque Isle natives leave The County for jobs elsewhere, he said his ability to begin his career as an accountant in Limestone is no outlier. It is an example of how young people can find success without venturing outside their hometown.

His work to get young people interested in local politics stems from a troubling trend he had noticed: the political interest of millenials primarily extends only to national politics, such as the presidency and Congress.

Yet, Shaw said youth were missing the influence they could have on the politics within their communities.

“There are huge decisions made at the national level,” Shaw said. “But nothing that is going to affect you tomorrow.”

In late 2019, he began producing videos describing City Council meetings in a condensed and straightforward format. He received a lot of positive feedback from the videos but said he continues to have difficulty reaching the city’s young inhabitants. He describes the venture as a work in progress.

Like many young people in settings with older colleagues, he initially feared it could be difficult for him on the council.

“You definitely have that worry going into a professional setting that you’re going to get discredited because you’re young or don’t have the life experience of other people,” Shaw said.

But Shaw, who is more than 10 years younger than the next youngest councilor, said he has always been treated as an equal by the rest of the body. He finds City Council meetings an enjoyable and educational experience: being able to size up issues on his own, while learning from councilors around him with long careers and plenty of experience.

The events that brought him into city government began long ago. Shaw described his upbringing in Presque Isle as a quintessential “boring Aroostook County childhood.” He played a lot of video games, an interest he maintains today, and spent days hanging out with his close-knit group of friends in the Aroostook Centre Mall.

He began dating his wife, Emily, in seventh grade. They eventually got married when Shaw was 21, and now have two daughters, ages 3 and 1.

Against this backdrop was the beginning of an interest in politics. It was nearly impossible for Shaw to avoid hearing about city workings, as his mother was deeply entrenched in them as a long-time employee of the Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library.

After graduating from high school, Shaw spent time at the University of Maine campuses in Orono and Presque Isle before graduating from the accounting program at Northern Maine Community College. He is still in school, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting in an online program through the University of Maine at Augusta.

He also joined the Maine Army National Guard. Shaw, who ended his primary service with the Guard in November, said that a military career was not something he would have pegged himself for growing up.

“I’m pretty passive, and I definitely don’t care for violence. And that’s the kind of stuff they make you mentally prepare for,” Shaw said. “So, it was a really good growing experience for me.”

He said his military experience helped him get a foot in the door working as an accountant at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service branch in Limestone. The agency, under the Department of Defense, primarily handles financial transactions.

Shaw was attending a City Council meeting in 2017, when Councilor Natalee Graves announced she was vacating her seat. Shaw applied for the vacancy, and though the council did not choose him, it inspired him to run for the council in November 2018. Shaw won the one-year seat unopposed.

Running for a four-year term in 2019, Shaw initially feared he could get voted out. He was young and, relative to other councilors, somewhat unknown in town. But he beat former Councilor Donald Gardner by 25 votes.

Councilor Craig Green described Shaw as “thoughtful” and a “good independent voice for citizens.” While Green said some might view his youth as a negative because of his relative inexperience, he said Shaw addressed potential criticism by maintaining a strong voice in meetings, keeping engaged with the public and educating himself on city issues through committee postings.

“He is intelligent, able to be impartial and has no preconceived ideas that sometimes causes a person to run for office,” Green said.

As far as the future, Shaw said he wants to spearhead an effort to halt Presque Isle college grads from leaving The County. He said that there are many misconceptions about jobs in The County: they aren’t all trade positions, and recent college grads can find great professional jobs with competitive pay locally. Yet, he said an “incentive program” might be needed to stop the exodus.

He looks forward to taking on this issue, and many others, in his future on the council, as he represents all of his constituents in Presque Isle.

“I feel lucky that I, as a person who just grew up here and wanted to make a difference and get involved, get to do just that every day,” Shaw said.