Talks with Elected Young Dems: Councilman Richard Sun

Have you ever wondered what it's like to run for public office as a Young Dem, much less to win? We wanted to hear about the experience of serving as an elected official at a young age in New Jersey, so we're sitting down with a different Young Dem holding public office in the Garden State every other month.

This month, we spoke with Richard Sun, a Councilman in Summit, New Jersey who took office in January of 2016. Richard's policy foci include downtown economic development, community inclusion/engagement, and the utilization of technology in government, and has served as Chair of the Public Works Committee since last year. 

1. What made you decide to run for public office in Summit?

There were some really important issues facing our community that Council was uniquely positioned to address. Across New Jersey, suburban communities – especially those with once-robust downtowns – are hurting because of the rise of online commerce and failing train lines.

Both topics – the impact of the internet and commuting into New York – were issues that spoke deeply to me as someone who grew up in the community. As a young person, I recognized that these issues would have a much longer term impact than just the next election cycle. These were issues that would affect the future of where I had grown up and where I would like to raise a family one day.

I felt a responsibility to run to bring innovative ideas to government and to help give voice to others.  

2. What are some of the challenges you faced, running as a Young Dem, and how did overcome them?

I look pretty young – there were times when I went door to door people thought I was fundraising for the marching band. There’s an inherent credibility issue when running as a young person.

My team and I worked our tails off on the campaign. We collectively hit every door in Summit about three times over the course of the campaign. We also used creative ways to share our message via social media and mail. Our approach to the campaign was a reflection of the creativity we would bring to Council and how seriously I was going to take the role.

3. Which developments taking place in Summit are exciting to you?

I’m particularly proud of the leadership role I have played on the following projects:

  1. Bringing a Winter Farmer’s Market to Downtown Summit

  2. Advocating for the Uber Partnership Pilot Program

  3. Identifying and implementing permitting software that will accelerate plan approval

4. What's on the horizon for you?

I just started a new job at Sidewalk Labs, Alphabet Inc’s urban innovation arm. I get to work with an incredible team on some of the most impactful urban technology challenges of our time.

In the near future, I’ll be headed to law school to ground what I have learned in practice within the framework of the law.

5. Do you have any advice for Young Dems that might like to run for office someday?

I think it’s a great experience and great way to give back. Folks who are hesitant should take a leap of faith. At the same time, people should be cognizant that running for and serving in office is a tremendous investment in both time and emotional energy.

Progress in the public sector can come at a frustratingly slow place. You really need to believe that you are going to make your community a better place by running and serving.

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