After graduating from Elon University five years ago, Ian Baltutis ’08 never left Burlington. And he’s now trying to unseat incumbent Ronnie Wall as the next mayor of Burlington.
Baltutis is new to politics, though not new to the area, and he faces a recognizable candidate with political experience in Wall. Wall has been mayor since 2007, and he was challenged for his seat only once in 2009.
But Baltutis has done his homework, preparing a comprehensive campaign strategy under the guidance of seasoned veterans of local politics.
“At the very beginning of the campaign, we spent quite a number of weeks meeting with different elected officials and previously elected officials from around the country to gage strategy and get feedback for the Burlington community,” he said. “We really wanted to figure out the direction that would be best for Burlington.”
Baltutis points to his business background as experience enough, political background aside. He has built a business from the ground up since graduating from Elon with a degree in businesses administration. His start-up, The Vibration Solution, has grown to become the world’s largest producer of ultra-soft polymers, which are used to quiet the noise made by dishwashers and other large household appliances.
But Baltutis’s business experience may not be enough to win the election, according to Kenneth Fernandez, assistant professor of political science and director of the Elon University Poll.
“A candidate who had prior experience serving on a city council or a school board might have an advantage over someone who is a businessman,” he said.
At the same time, local elections tend to have much lower voter turnouts than those on the national stage, making the results difficult to predict.
“The key thing to keep in mind with any type of local election, particularly with a smaller place, is that most people just don’t know much of all about the candidates,” said Jason Husser, assistant professor of political science and assistant director of the Elon University Poll. “That makes these kind of elections extremely volatile. Often we don’t know how elections will go until they actually happen. You sometimes see a correlation by alphabetical order of name and their vote share.”
In order to accomplish his goals once in office, Baltutis craves the support of a particular demographic that has been conspicuously absent from Burlington over the last decade: younger people from 18-40.
Over the past decade, Burlington has grown by 11.5 percent as a whole. But the 18-40 age group has seen no growth at all. Young professionals are finishing school and leaving Burlington behind, a trend Baltutis would very much like to see reversed.
“We need to grow across all age demographics, in order to make sure we strengthen our economy not only today, but for the coming decade,” he said. “The economy needs young people, needs new ideas.”
And while he seeks to keep younger people in Burlington, Baltutis is still young himself, which may complicate his campaign planning.
“The key challenge for young people to overcome it to establish credibility early on in the race, so that people can see them as a person of maturity,” Husser said. “And that’s not necessarily easy to do in a race that people might not pay that much attention to begin with.
Provided he wins the election, Baltutis has plans to more closely integrate Elon with the Burlington community. He pointed out that the Elon University Bio Bus is open to the general public, though many members of the community think it’s only available to students.
The Bio Bus is part of a larger plan of Baltutis to overhaul the city’s public transportation system, slowly, as not to overwhelm the city with exorbitant costs that have caused previous efforts to fail.
He also has spoken with the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business about a program that would match entrepreneurial Elon students with local businesses, in an internship of sorts that would benefit local businesses while giving students real world experience in the business world.
“The idea being that there’s no better way to get this experience on an entry level than to get down and dirty, hands on, with somebody that’s fighting for their business’ life.”