February 20, 2006 12:00 PM

After a grueling campaign for mayor of Hillsdale, Mich., and a nail-biter of an election—he beat the incumbent by just two votes—Michael Sessions was looking forward to celebrating his victory at city hall. But best friend Nick had band practice, his younger sister Sarah was in bed with a double ear infection and pal Jordan was, well, grounded. So it went for the 18-year-old high school senior, who took the oath of office Nov. 21 and now governs the struggling factory town southwest of Detroit. Says county commissioner Alan Ringenberg: “I think he’s going to give us some life.”

School Daze

When Sessions walks the halls of Hillsdale High School, kids greet him with “Hello, Mayor” and high fives. The young mayor is managing to keep a 3.25 GPA in courses that include Spanish, computer science and accounting, while working as a part-time teacher’s aide—and running a town with a $20 million annual budget. Something had to give: This semester, Sessions dropped English for phys ed. Says friend Jordan Peel, 17: “He used to run track and do the Polar Bear club. Now he’s too busy. Mayor work, I guess.”

Dinner with the Folks

The young mayor (at home with mom Lorri, 42, a housekeeper, and dad Scott, 48, a medical assistant) has been a political junkie ever since a fourth-grade trip to the state capitol in Lansing. But it wasn’t until 2003, when his dad lost his job when his auto plant moved to Mexico, that Michael was moved to take action. “The people of Hillsdale are hardworking, and I knew I had to try to bring jobs here and retain them,” he says. “I ran because I wanted to get involved.” So, has the election changed Michael? “Yeah, he comes over to our house and talks to my parents now,” says buddy Andrew Scholl, 15. “And this will definitely help with the girls.”

Keeping Voters Happy

Though Sessions doesn’t have an office, he more than earns his $3,600 salary. Among his duties: signing off on the budget, running Hillsdale’s bimonthly city council meetings (left), making appointments like police chief and exercising emergency powers in the event of a crisis, in addition to performing marriages. (For the record, Sessions isn’t dating.) Most people in town have been supportive, but one resident did write the newspaper before the election to say, “There is probably not an 18-year-old in the U.S. qualified to mayor a town. Please do not embarrass the good city of Hillsdale any further.”

A Long Day’s End

After fielding constituent complaints about garbage collection and granting a liquor license to a bar—where Sessions is too young to drink—the mayor leaves a city council meeting and heads for home. There, on a typical night, says best friend Nick Sarles, 15, he’ll conduct business on the phone while his friends hang out. His election was “awesome,” says another buddy, Mike Maystead, 16. Even council member Mike Parney, 50, agrees: “Michael has brought our community together, and people are taking him seriously.” But he’s had a steep learning curve. Says Sessions: “I’ve had to mature in five minutes. I’ve realized that life’s not always about goofing around.”

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