Meet Matt Benchener: He's Not Your Average 20-Something
Newtown Township Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Matt Benchener was elected in 2009 at the age of 23.
Most 23-year-olds are still clinging to college life, getting used to the sometimes overwhelming reality of adulthood and often confused about what exactly they should be doing with themselves.
Not Matt Benchener.
Two years ago, at the age of 23, Benchener was elected to serve on the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors. Since then Benchener, now 25, has gained respect from his fellow board members and residents alike for his thoughtful and rational approach to local issues.
Less than one year after graduating as a political science major from Johns Hopkins University, Benchener knew he wanted to get involved politically. A native of Upper Makefield, Benchener moved to Newtown with his wife Amy in 2008.
“I’ve always had a passion for the political realm,” he says, noting that his household was one in which politics and current events were discussed around the dinner table with fervor. “Growing up, we would always be debating issues. Both my parents were passionate about politics,” he says.
Right after the 2008 presidential election, Benchener contacted Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick and asked his advice on the best way to get involved with politics. “He told me the best way to learn is to start locally.”
Benchener, who works in the corporate strategy department of the Vanguard Group, considers financial issues to be one of his core strengths. So he put that to use at the local level, joining the township’s Financial Planning Committee.
During the 2009 election, Benchener was initially going to run as auditor.
“After about six months on the Financial Planning Committee, I saw a coming tidal wave of issues that were going to hit the township,” Benchener says. The township was considering a major tax increase because the economic downturn was impacting revenues.
So when a seat on the board unexpectedly opened, he decided to step up and run as a Republican candidate for township supervisor. “I saw a lot of areas where we could be more efficient.”
He was nominated in mid-August and quickly ramped up his campaign against Democrat Joanne Bintliff-Ritchie.
“I knocked on 3,500 doors in three months,” he recalls. “I had to get out and meet people.”
Benchener says he was outspent by his opponent, however he won the election with nearly 60 percent of the vote. And while his age was raised as a campaign issue, Benchener never thought of it as a detriment.
Rather, he viewed it as a strength. “I’m going to bring a different perspective to this board that’s not there today. I’m going to be an outspoken voice for what I think is right," he would respond to questions about his age.
Once he was sworn in in 2010 (for a term that extends to 2016), he admits there was a learning curve. To be involved in local politics, Benchener points out, “you have to know about sewage, roads, traffic, police services, fire services, budgets, parks and recreation,” he says. “It’s a massive body of information.”
He credits his fellow board members for helping him navigate those first few months. “I would work with supervisors prior to meetings. I asked a million questions,” he recalls.
But after a few months, Benchener felt comfortable in his new role and is now focused on a handful of local issues, which include keeping taxes low, maximizing the efficiency of the township’s core services and helping Newtown’s business community to thrive.
He also has his sights set on the upcoming negotiations with the local CWA (Communications Works of America) Union, whose long-term contract will be up at the end of this year. “We have to get that right,” he said.
Rob Ciervo, chair of the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors, said Benchener brings both enthusiasm and financial prudence to the board, all while working to ensure quality of life in the township.
Plus, Ciervo says, Bencher is someone who stands up for what he believes.
“He is not afraid to take principled stands on a difficult issue even if he knows full well his position may make some individuals less than happy,” he says.
Benchener says as he gets more and more involved in his role, the Newtown community continues to impress him.
“I’ve been really impressed with the vibrance of this community and the potential it has,” he says. “We have a great and thriving business community. We have incredible volunteers on our committees who put on incredible events.”
What does the future hold for Benchener once his first term is up? He doesn’t know if and when he’ll expand his political footings but he’s pretty confident he’ll be involved in some capacity.
And that’s a lot more than most 25 year olds can say.