Steve Ferguson

Burbank Unified School District board candidate Steve Ferguson, 24, stands in front of his alma mater Burbank High School. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / March 12, 2013)

If voters elect 24-year-old Steve Ferguson to the Burbank Unified school board on April 9, it's widely believed that not only would he be the youngest elected official in the city's history, but the first openly gay man to hold public office in the city.

While he says he didn't set out to make his sexuality a cornerstone of his campaign, Ferguson also hasn't shied away from it.

“It's important to be transparent and honest. This is who I am,” he said.

Among the field of current candidates, Ferguson is also the only one without children. But his differences are what his supporters tout as his strengths.

During the February primary, he won 3,013 votes, landing between two seemingly typical candidates for a school board race — David Dobson, a father of two and PTA president at Disney Elementary, and Charlene Tabet, a mother of three and PTA president at Burbank High School.

But in other ways, Ferguson is like many who hold office in Burbank, having been born and raised in the city.

“He has a finger on the pulse of the community,” said Lori Adams, president of the Burbank Teachers Assn., which endorsed Ferguson.

For Ferguson, Burbank schools were always his safe place. At age 8, his parents divorced and Ferguson was raised by his mom.

As a senior at Burbank High, Ferguson's mother became ill from cancer.

The last time Ferguson saw his mother, he told her he loved her, gave her “the best hug of my life,” he said, “and she was gone.”

Weeks later, Ferguson said he was pressured to move out. He quit attending Glendale Community College in favor of work, “paying the bills and putting a roof over my head,” he said.

He is now a partner of a political and media strategy company and has worked for several Los Angeles-area campaigns.

While he is enrolled at Northeastern University's online program, opponents have questioned his ability to lead without a college degree.

That criticism, he says, is unwarranted.

“We've elected leaders before in this community without a college degree,” Ferguson said.

He gained a well-known endorsement in former Mayor Mary Lou Howard, who says she became impressed with Ferguson when he served as the youngest city commissioner in 2007.

In 2010, Ferguson questioned former parks and recreation director Chris Daste's merit pay bonus when funding for senior meals at McCambridge Recreation Center was proposed for elimination.

“I think he's very knowledgeable and a very smart young man,” Howard said. “I think it's time that the next generation comes and takes over and gets involved.”

His run for office isn't his first. At age 18, he volunteered for two weeks for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in Iowa. He returned inspired and launched a 2009 Burbank City Council campaign — and lost.

But for Ferguson, it was just as well. He may have understood how the city worked, he said, “but I didn't have a whole lot of experience.”

“I'm happy I didn't get elected,” Ferguson said.

This time, he feels he's poised for a comeback with a platform centered on building more programs for students, reducing drop-out rates and making the district's financial committee meetings public.

The current school board, Ferguson added, has led the district to a place “where we can start dreaming again.”

“Yes, I'm the youngest and first openly gay. Maybe that's what we need to spark a new conversation,” he said. “I'm going to start building something for our young people and I'm going to deliver on that.”

--

Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.