The young leader of what’s been called the most diverse square mile in America declared today he’s running for U.S. Senate. Ted Terry, a millennial sometimes referred to as the “hipster mayor,” represents Clarkston, a small town just east of the I-285 perimeter. Now he’s set his sights on the Senate seat Republican David Perdue has held since 2015.
If elected, Terry, an avowed progressive Democrat, would be the political antithesis of incumbent Perdue, a staunch ally of President Donald Trump. In Clarkston, Terry has championed the decriminalization of marijuana possession and raised the minimum wage for city employees to $15 an hour. He’s also an avid environmentalist, serving as the director of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club, and has committed to get his city running 100 percent on clean energy by 2050. (Perdue, on the other hand, has taken money from oil and gas interests and lobbied Trump to bail on the Paris Agreement, a United Nations accord that aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions and disinvest in fossil fuels.)
Terry, 36, vows to pursue the same liberal goals at the federal level, he told Atlanta magazine in an interview Tuesday. The mayor’s primary goal with this bid: “To bring a new generation of leadership to the Senate—a new perspective.” A young one, he means. “The median age of the Senate is over 60 years old, and there is no voice representing what would be the largest voting block in America in 2020—the under 35-year-old voting block.”
Trump’s election and the rise of the alt-right have also played a role in Terry’s decision to run for higher office, but he says his chief inspiration comes from what he’s seen out of Perdue’s time in office. “He ran as an outsider,” Terry said. “He made some campaign promises along the way and then completely fell in with [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell, the king of the swamp creatures.”
Among his platform goals, Terry wants to address what he considers a “healthcare crisis” in America. “I’d like to see a ‘Medicare for all who want it’ public option,” he said, nodding to a bill senators are pushing that would allow Medicare to compete with private insurance companies. Terry also wants to ensure the U.S. stays a part of the Paris Agreement. (Trump opted to pull out of the deal in 2017, but it will take until November 2020 for the withdrawal to take effect.) But he says the agreement needs bolstering, since it’s largely a symbolic commitment to mitigating climate change. “The Paris Agreement has no enforcement mechanism . . . I’d like to see a renegotiation that actually puts some standards in place so countries could be held accountable,” he said.
And of course, considering Terry represents such a prolifically diverse community, immigration reform is top of mind, too. “Fifty percent of [Clarkston] is foreign-born, and yet crime hasn’t spiked; we’re one of the safest cities in Georgia,” he said. “We haven’t gone bankrupt; we’re one of the fastest growing suburbs in the nation. Our new Americans represent the best of what America has to offer.”
Terry aims to grow the country’s refugee resettlement program and streamline the immigration system for asylum seekers. “Clarkston could have been a dying town 30 years ago, but because of the refugee resettlement and immigration, we’ve become an even richer community culturally and economically.”
And yes, Terry is that dude from the second season of Netflix’s Queer Eye, in which the then-scraggly-bearded mayor underwent a major makeover. By the end of the show, Terry’s “resistance beard” was gone, his tattered clothes were replaced, his home “looked like it jumped out of a Pottery Barn catalogue,” and his name recognition spiked. “I get messages on a daily basis from people around Georgia, around the country, around the world who are glad that there are American leaders who are taking a welcoming, inclusive, and compassionate approach to some of the most vulnerable people in the world right now,” he said, referring to refugees and asylum seekers.
Whether his progressive record and reality TV appearance are enough to send through the primaries remains to be seen. He believes his record as mayor should separate him from the other Democrats who have or will toss their hats in the ring since Stacey Abrams opted not to join the race. But what really sets Terry apart from Perdue, he said, is his intention to better listen to constituents. “I will hold a gosh darn town hall,” he said, a jab at the senator who protesters called to meet with—to no avail—during the early days of Trump’s presidency. “My first year as mayor, I got rid of my mayoral office and opted to have all of my meetings out in the public at local coffee shops, parks, and restaurants . . . I will bring that same level of transparency to the Senate office.”