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In a bid for Congress, Aiken seeks a different kind of stage

“It’s funny to me that I’m still stuck in so many people’s minds sometimes as the 24-year-old from ‘Idol,’” chuckled Clay Aiken.“The more important thing to me that came out of ‘Idol’ was the ability it gave me to talk about issues that were important to me and bring attention to those.” 

Aiken, now 43, may have gained prominence as an “American Idol” fan favorite. But before “Idol,” he worked at the YMCA, where he became interested in children with special needs. These days, Aiken says his life centers on his organization for children with special needs, the National Inclusion Project. The program works with organizations to include children with disabilities in recreational programs, like camps.  

Now, Aiken wants to use his platform for politics.

“I was waiting and expecting someone who would jump in who would have some sort of powerful statewide voice or the proven ability to bring attention to issues, because I don’t think people in this district really realize how much David Price has done over the past 35 years,” Aiken said. 

The source of Aiken’s name recognition differs from that of U.S. Rep David Price, but he believes he can bring the same benefits to district residents. If elected to represent North Carolina’s 4th District in Congress, Aiken would ensure the district maintains access to infrastructure funds and housing funds, especially as housing prices skyrocket.

He would also reform education funding. Title I, which supports underfunded schools, has “incentivized school districts to create high poverty schools” in order to get more money, he said. 

This is not Aiken’s first run for Congress. He said his commitment to fairer election maps prompted him to run in 2014 against Rep. Rennee Ellmers (R) in North Carolina’s 2nd District. Aiken views the issue of voting rights as urgent, and would vote for both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the more sweeping H.R.1, which would reform voting rights and election administration. 

“We need to accept as much progress as we can make in this area right now, because we can’t really wait anymore,” Aiken said.

Aiken laments how Democrats waited to act on other pressing issues such as climate change, gun violence and police brutality.

“I think Democrats have a tendency, over the past four years, to be a bit superficial when it comes to making progress,” he said. “I’m all for symbolic victories, but symbolic victories don’t do much to save anyone’s lives and protect people.”

Editor’s note: Read more about the contest to represent North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District here

Photo courtesy of Clay Aiken