As Justin Y. Tseng ’22 approaches his senior year, he is embarking on a job search that looks quite different from that of a typical rising senior. In late March, he announced his run for Medford City Council with the goal of serving the town he calls home.
As a young candidate with a progressive vision, he said he hopes to address issues such as school funding and housing affordability, as well as serve as the first elected City Council member of color in decades.
Tseng, a first-generation Taiwanese American, moved to Medford from Iowa when he was two years old and, since then, has grown up there and attended Medford Public Schools.
“I’ve always felt connected to my community,” Tseng said. “[When you’re] a child of immigrants, when you find that community that really embraces you, you really want to give back to it.”
Tseng said he found ways to give back through volunteering at his elementary school’s after-school program, assisting his middle school orchestra teacher in giving cello lessons, and representing students on his elected school committee.
Since attending Harvard, Tseng said he has continued to stay involved with Medford — a Boston suburb home to just under 60,000 residents — by facilitating conversations about rethinking Medford’s school budget between the teachers’ union and members of the School Committee.
Through his work and activism as a student, he met current Medford City Councilor Isaac B. “Zac” Bears, who recently endorsed Tseng.
“I’m all in for Justin,” Bears said. “He’s a kind person, attentive, paying attention to the issues, reaching out to folks who may not feel represented by city government currently, so that’s one reason that I really support him.”
Tseng said he is advertising himself as a progressive candidate who would bring racial diversity and experience working with Medford Public Schools to the City Council.
According to Bears, both of these factors are particularly important right now, given that Medford currently faces challenges with school funding and lacks racial diversity on its city council.
Tseng said he is optimistic that Medford voters will want candidates who promote progress.
“Medford is at the crossroads of change,” Tseng said. “When you look at the discussions that my city is having from how we deal with consequences of the pandemic to the national movement for Black lives, I think that people in Medford are ready to stand up and meet the moment.”
It is no secret that Tseng is significantly younger than most of the current City Council members.
According to Bears, who is the youngest current member of the Council, this is actually a strength for Tseng, given that the average age of the Council members is significantly higher than that of their constituents.
James A. Fitz-Henley ’22, Tseng’s roommate, said he believes Tseng’s age does not diminish his desire and qualifications to serve the city.
“Yes, Justin is young, but I also think he’s a very wise and thoughtful person. I think he’s willing to listen and excited to listen to lots of different perspectives,” Fitz-Henley said.
“I have a hard time believing that there’s anybody who is more passionate about Medford than Justin is, and I’m fully confident that he is competent and capable of doing some really great things for the city,” he added.
At Harvard, Tseng is a member of the Institute of Politics, where he served as chair of the Harvard Public Opinion Project and co-chaired the Education Policy group. He also plays cello for the Bach Society Orchestra.
Despite his active political involvement both in Medford and at Harvard, Tseng said he has no clear aspiration to be a career politician or necessarily run for public office at all outside of the City Council.
“I think the question I will always be asking myself is what the best way to serve is. And so, right now for me, I believe that’s being a city councilor in the city that I grew up in, the city that I love,” Tseng said.
“I’ve been very passionate about Medford for a very long time,” he added. “But there’s a lot of people [who] do pursue politics as a career for a very, very long time and, you know, if that’s the best way for me to serve my community and for me to serve this world, then I’ll do that, but if there are other opportunities and other ways that I can give back, then I’ll also consider all of those.”
The preliminary election for Medford City Council will take place on Sept. 14, followed by the regular election on Nov. 2.
—Staff writer Alexandra N. Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alex_wilson2023.