Politics appeals to 4th- grader

Sam Hilbish is only 10, but he already has something for his resume: Experience on a political campaign.

And that will help, the Cannon School fourth-grader said, toward his ultimate goal of being a mayor, senator or the president.

Sam volunteered for 12 hours on Election Day, handing out platform cards for Jeff Hare, who won a seat on the Cornelius Board of Commissioners.

Sam attended Hare's town hall meetings. He learned from Hare about such issues as funding commuter rail from Charlotte to Lake Norman.

And he had his mom, Lynn Hilbish, serve as his chauffeur, he said, as he tucked Hare's platform cards between flags on mailboxes in the Peninsula community off Jetton Road.

Sam decided last fall that he wanted to be a politician, inspired by a book he chose at random at school, "Who was John F. Kennedy?" Cannon School requires students to read 20 minutes a day for homework.

David Long, Cannon School's director of marketing and communications, told Sam last week that he was inspired by the same book at age 10. He later worked for U.S. Sens. Ted Kennedy and Dianne Feinstein and the Senate Judiciary Committee when it was chaired by now-Vice President Joe Biden, Long told Sam.

Lynn Hilbish said she didn't take her son seriously, though, when he first told her he wanted to be a politician. She figured he'd forget it by the time he woke up the next morning, as children often do. But he only repeated his ambition the next day, she said.

"My mom was shocked that it stuck with me when I woke up in the morning and I still wanted to be a politician," Sam said in an interview at the private school on Poplar Tent Road last week. "I thought someday I could be president of the United States."

Sam later asked his mom how soon he could run for mayor.

"You have to be 18," she explained.

"What if I'm 16 and nobody else runs?" he replied.

Sam also snuck onto his mom's computer one day, found the town of Cornelius website and emailed officials asking if they needed an intern. He wrote in his email that it would look good on his "rezuma," Lynn Hilbish said.

It all reminded Lynn of the precocious character Alex Keaton played by Michael J. Fox in the 1980s TV sitcom, "Family Ties."

Sam finally linked up with Hare, whose wife, Jackie, is Lynn's friend. Sam, his mom and the candidate ended up having lunch at McAlister's Deli on West Catawba Avenue.

"He was energetic throughout the whole process," Hare said, "and his grasp of the issues I found impressive as well."

Sam politely asked voters at the precinct at Jetton Park whether they'd like one of Hare's cards, instead of just extending one out to them, Hare said. "Who's going to say no to a 10-year-old with an eager face?" Hare said. "I was calling him my secret weapon."

Hare noticed how another candidate that day called in his children to help at the polls, likely inspired by Sam's appeal to voters.

Sam said he likes math at school and enjoys wakeboarding and competing in football, lacrosse and swimming.

But he's most intent on politics, he said, and has already thought of issues he'll address when elected. One, he said, is to keep the country out of war and use the money to improve the economy.