While most college seniors are counting the days until graduation and finishing up coursework, George Mason University physics major Billy Bates decided to take on new challenge. In fall 2022, he ran for Fairfax City Council and won. He was sworn in in January.
This was not an impulsive move for Bates. He said he has been involved in politics and the Young Democrats since he was 14. “That’s when I started paying attention to politics, volunteering, and emailing the city council about different issues,” said Bates, who attended nearby Fairfax High School.
Bates didn’t waste any time immersing himself in the Virginia political process. He has worked for OneVirginia2021 (now UpVoteVirginia) and interned on the campaigns of U.S. Representative Gerry Connolly and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. He also campaigned for State Delegate Alfonso Lopez (49th district) and then worked in Lopez’s district office conducting policy research.
One of Bates’s first political supporters was Mason alum Catherine S. Read, the new mayor of the City of Fairfax, who was also sworn in January.
“She was one of the first people to urge me to run for city council,” said Bates, 20, who plans to graduate in December. “She really did a lot to help me out throughout the campaign.”
“He is smart, he is committed, and he’s about as geeky, wonky, and in the weeds about local government as you can imagine,” said Read of Bates. “He’s so smart and plugged in. Everyone is finding out how smart Billy is.”
Bates’s commitment to the City Council involves three or four weekly meetings a month and an occasional weekend retreat. And for right now, Bates isn’t thinking about going into politics full time.
“I don't really have any interest in going beyond City Council because the way I see it, it's kind of like cake, you know?,” he said. “I look forward to it every week, but if I had it all the time, I'd get tired of it.”
Since coming to Mason, Bates has dabbled in several majors, taking courses in government, business, and bioengineering. He has even considered law school. He said he decided on physics in part for the challenge of it.
“Writing and that kind of analytical thinking are already kind of a strong suit of mine so I decided that I'd get more out of doing a major like engineering or physics, which strengthens a side of my skillset that doesn't really come as naturally to me.”
Bates’s concentration is in computational physics, and he plans to continue with physics in graduate school. He aspires to do theoretical research and ultimately earn a PhD. This spring, he is taking Physics 402 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics with Professor Mingzhen Tian. “That's honestly my favorite class so far. I really enjoy it.”
When not doing school work or handling council responsibilities, Bates hits in the gym. He finds the physical activity is critical for managing stress. He also enjoys hiking with family and friends. One of his favorite trails is in Daniels Run Park in Fairfax near his high school. And it’s obvious he is a big fan of Fairfax.
“There are some really beautiful spots,” he said of his hometown. “It has a lot of character, a lot of history. It’s my home.”
Other alums serving on the Fairfax City Council are Kate G. Doyle Feingold, PhD Criminology, Law and Society ’20, who is serving her first term on the council, and the first Mason alum to sit on the City Council—Jeffrey C. Greenfield, BA Political Science ’89, MPA ’92, who is serving his 13th term.