In 2013, he was on the Electric Cooperative Youth Tour visiting the nation’s capital. Barely four years later he’s about to become the youngest elected official currently serving in South Carolina.
And what makes Phillip Habib’s latest accomplishment that much more impressive is he did it as a last-minute, write-in candidate.
On Feb. 1, Habib, 20, starts his term as Berkeley County Soil and Water Commissioner after a campaign that got off to an unusual start.
“I was actually filling out my absentee ballot and I noticed that there were no filed candidates for the office,” said Habib. He had worked with the commission before on some programs and thought, “Hey, nobody’s running for this. Why can’t I?”
When Habib learned that the incumbent made a last-minute decision not to seek re-election, he put his ballot aside and got to work.
He’s always been active in his community, so Habib sought out support from civic leaders he’d worked with. “I knew that in order for me to have a successful campaign I had to get these people on my side.”
Once he had their backing, Habib got to work—starting a social media campaign on the Saturday night before Tuesday’s election.
“At first everybody thought I was kidding,” so to show he wasn’t, he made a video that’s on his campaign’s Facebook page.
Standing at a waterway, Habib spoke about the need to protect natural resources as Berkeley County continues to grow—appropriate, since the commissioner “is basically in charge of setting policy and programs that deal with conservation.”
The video has more than 5,000 views.
“That’s when people started to take me seriously,” he said.
The night before the election, Habib drove three hours to get home from Wofford College, where he’s a junior majoring in economics. He got up at 4:30 a.m. Election Day, Nov. 8, went to Wal-Mart to buy poster board and markers, and with his mother’s help made signs which he posted at some of the bigger polling places.
“I had a few volunteers and they went out to some of the precincts and passed out fliers and got people to vote for me,” Habib said.
“I got 463 votes,” which meant victory for the four-year, unpaid position. The next closest write-in candidate had 148 votes.
But how will he balance it with school?
“The district meetings are every fourth Tuesday, and I’ve already talked with my professors and set my schedule in a way that I will be able to go to every single meeting that’s required,” Habib said. Phone calls and video conferences will also help him get the job done.
As for his future plans, he’s not sure. “But I have a passion for entrepreneurship and problem solving,” he said, “so I definitely want to go down that road.”
Par for the course, said Van O’Cain, director of public and member relations at The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina.
“It was clear to me from the very start of the Washington Youth Tour that Phillip would do well if he chose to go into public service,” said O’Cain. “He’s a natural leader with a unique ability to make friends in a second. I’m proud of what Phillip’s accomplished at such a young age, but not surprised.”