When Michael Stapor first moved from Canton to Athens in 2016, he had no interest in joining his University of Georgia peers to return home for spring break or Thanksgiving weekend. He didn’t consider himself part of the transient student population.
“Athens has always been my home — I was never half-and-half between here and where I used to live. Athens is my home,” Stapor said.
Stapor, a 22-year-old District 4 resident and 2019 UGA graduate, announced his campaign for the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission District 4 seat in March, challenging incumbent Allison Wright, who has held the role for two terms. If elected, Stapor will serve as the youngest commissioner in the county’s history, following District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker.
After graduating from UGA in December, Stapor remained in Athens to figure out what career path he wanted to pursue. As he considered applying for UGA’s political science and international affairs master’s program, he took interest in involving himself in local politics. After researching which ACC commission seats were up for reelection in 2020, he noticed the District 4 seat was up for grabs.
The 2020 general election is Stapor’s first foray into public office. He has limited experience — alongside participating in the UGA Air Force ROTC for one year, he previously served as the secretary for UGA Students For Sensible Drug Policy and UGA Rowing.
His limited background and young age works to his advantage, he said — he doesn’t have any business or lobbying interests within the state.
“My only interest in Athens is the people, especially low-wage workers, low-income individuals, that’s more my background,” Stapor said.
A young perspective
When Stapor moved to District 4 in August 2017, he was struck by the homeless population and “atrocious poverty rate,” issues that he didn’t see any improvement in within the four years he lived in Athens. Stapor said he felt the current commissioners were “complacent in their roles” and not showing enough passion or commitment to fix the issue.
“We should have some young people representing our interests as well, building the city for the future, knowing what kind of issues we face, such as climate change,” Stapor said. “People weren’t happy with the current system, and I thought it was a very good opportunity for me to run.”
Stapor has pushed initiatives to ease poverty and increase access to basic infrastructure to the forefront of his campaign. If elected, he envisions increasing access to public transportation, enacting a tenants’ bill of rights and introducing a minimum wage of $15 an hour, among other initiatives.
K. Chad Clay, an associate professor of international affairs at UGA, was first introduced to Stapor after he invited the professor to participate in a speaker series for the Air Force ROTC program. Clay later got to know Stapor in a professional capacity on a 2019 study abroad program in Ireland, where he was struck by his maturity and “pretty amazing moral compass.”
Clay said Stapor always chooses to do the right thing and take actions about the injustices he sees in the world. He said this characteristic speaks volumes about him as a leader.
“I’m pretty inspired by the simple fact that he looked around, he sees things that he thinks should be better, should be changed, and he’s immediately willing to try to do something about it,” Clay said.
Niko Trumbauer, Stapor’s longtime roommate and a UGA senior, was unsurprised when Stapor brought up the idea of running for a commission seat at the beginning of the year. A close friend of Stapor’s for more than 10 years, Trumbauer said Stapor is a forward and direct go-getter.
“He’s very real with people, he tells them what he really believes, and he tells them how it is,” Trumbauer said. “I think that he can get a lot of people to follow him because he’s honest with everyone.”
Both the county and state are in a state of flux amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The May 19 general elections were postponed to June 9 due to the extension of Georgia's public health state of emergency to May 13. For candidates, shelter-in-place ordinances have limited campaigning and canvassing to the digital realm.
Though Stapor’s plans for the future have shifted, he plans to further his online outreach and communication by way of participating in digital moderated debates, livestreamed candidate forums and collaboration with the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement.
“I know that I don’t have all the answers, and I am very open to working with the whole Athens community,” Stapor said. “I think that’s something that’s currently missing.”