Wofford College student becomes state’s youngest elected official

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Wofford College junior Phillip Habib. Photo by Wofford College.

Politicians typically spend a lot of time and money competing for public office. But Wofford College junior Phillip Habib only needed $30, a Facebook page and three days of campaigning to become the youngest elected official in South Carolina.

On Nov. 8, the 20-year-old from Goose Creek, S.C. won a seat on the Berkeley County Soil and Water Commission. Habib got 463 write-in votes, while his closest competitor got 148 votes. In total, 5,228 names were submitted as write-in candidates for the position.

Surprisingly, Habib launched his campaign the Thursday before Election Day. “I was just filling out my absentee ballot and noticed that no one was running for the office. That interested me, so I called the county. They told me that the current commissioner wasn’t running again, and I figured, ‘Why not me?’”

Habib, who majors in economics and finance and minors in environmental studies, announced his campaign that Saturday and immediately launched a Facebook page, called “Phillip Habib for Soil and Water District Commissioner,” to build support for his write-in campaign.

He also spent $20 on advertising, creating a video of himself discussing Spartanburg’s Glendale Shoals Preserve, where a nearby creek has suffered severe pollution from textile mills along its banks. “The point of the video was to help people better understand my platform, which is balancing economic development with conservation.”

The advertisement worked as Habib’s page gained more than 200 likes in just a couple of days.

Habib credits The Space, a center at Wofford for professional development and entrepreneurship, for his social media campaign. “One of the things they teach us is how valuable social media is to spreading your brand. Also, Facebook has the most users, so it only makes sense to use a social media platform that can reach the most people,” he said.

On the day of the election, Habib woke up at 4:30 a.m. and went to Walmart, where he used his remaining $10 to purchase poster board, duct tape and permanent markers to make several campaign signs.

“When I got home, I realized I wasn’t doing it fast enough. I woke up my mom to get some help. She loved me enough to get out of bed and help me write,” Habib said. “We then went out that morning around 6 a.m. and started putting signs up and handing out flyers at several polling places throughout the county.”

Since it was a write-in position and news outlets didn’t post results as they came in, Habib had to drive from precinct to precinct to count his votes as they were posted on the front doors. He then went to the Berkeley County Elections Office, where he stayed until 11 p.m. trying to figure out if he had won the commission seat.

At the time, Habib had counted just 350 votes. But then he later found out that he gained more than 400. “Looking back, I’m not that surprised because of the great response I got on social media,” he said.

Now, more than a month later, Habib is ready to start implementing his platform. “I really don’t feel any different now that I’ve won the election. Sure, there are more people congratulating me. But I’m staying focused on just serving my community to the best of my ability. That’s the reason I was elected,” he said.

Habib added that Berkeley County’s “natural beauty is undervalued” and that he wants to “create programs that encourage people to properly use our resources, such as the Berkeley Blueways program that promotes kayaking in the county.”

And while Habib is young, he’s no stranger to politics or Berkeley County’s economic growth and environment. He is the son of Goose Creek City Councilman Greg Habib and interned for the Berkeley County Economic Development Office the past two summers, overseeing the Berkeley Blueways program.

Habib said he ultimately hopes to promote “smart economic growth” in the county.

But he added that he’s not worried about balancing the responsibilities of college and an elected office. “The soil and water commission meetings are every fourth Tuesday, so that’s means just three meetings per semester,” he said. “I’ve already set my schedule and discussed it with my professors. They’ve been very helpful.”

He must also attend the Berkeley County Conservation District meetings once a month.

“I’m just ready to serve the people of Berkeley County, because I know that I have the energy and passion to do some good back home,” Habib said.

Despite his win, Habib isn’t sure what he will do after graduating. He said the internship at the Berkeley County Economic Development Office and his time at The Space have him thinking about becoming an entrepreneur. Habib is the co-founder of a start-up called Voyway, which aggregates the travel industry.

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