When the 17-year-old returned a reporter’s phone call Wednesday, he’d just finished a busy day at work analyzing Nigeria’s plummeting currency and what it meant for investors.
A typical day at Benjamin Burstein’s summer job with an South Florida investment company.
“A long-term goal for me is to work in the financial sector,” Benjamin said.
The ambitious young man will be a senior at Miami Beach Senior High School come fall, and he’ll also have a new role at City Hall. He has worked with Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez to develop a new citizen advisory board — the Miami Beach Youth Commission — which he hopes will work on issues that affect the city’s teenage population.
“We want to make sure there’s a way to connect City Hall to Beach High,” he said.
Each of the Beach’s seven commissioners will appoint one member to the seven-member Youth Commission, which will convene after summer break. Benjamin will serve on the commission, which he envisions as a forum where high schoolers can voice their thoughts on the city.
“While all students may not feel comfortable going in front the actual commission to give their ideas, they may be willing to go in front of a panel of their peers,” he said.
One of his initial ideas is to hold a mock election at Beach High during the next mayoral vote in 2017. Further down the road, he’d love to see the voting age for municipal elections lowered to 16. Florida elections law allows local governments to lower the voting age in municipal elections to 16. He did some polling that showed there isn’t an appetite for that in the Beach right now, but maybe in the future.
The Youth Commission will produce a report at the end of the school year summarizing the groups work throughout the year.
Rosen Gonzalez, who sponsored the ordinance creating the commission, met Benjamin during last year’s campaign. Through a nonpartisan political action committee he founded last year, Teens for Teens, he moderated candidate debates in the months leading up to November’s election.
Benjamin is likely the youngest director of a PAC in the country.
“I was so impressed with his passion for politics and motivation to participate in local government,” Rosen Gonzalez told the Miami Herald. “He is such a bright, eloquent, and motivated young man who sat through the entire commission meeting on both first and second readings of the ordinance. We also asked for Ben's help while crafting the actual ordinance.”
The Beach’s commission is modeled after the Miami-Dade County Youth Commission. Rosen Gonzalez hopes to one day provide a budget to the Youth Commission so they can travel to Tallahassee to meet legislators, like the county board.