What it's like running for mayor as a 22-year-old 1st-time female candidate in Ohio

Tiff Piko, 22, decided to make history in her hometown.

What happens when a 22-year-old first-time candidate -- a woman and a person of color to boot -- enters the world of local politics in her Ohio hometown?

Tiffany "Tiff" Piko, who makes a living selling used clothing online, made history in her hometown last fall when she became the first woman on the ballot for mayor of Lancaster, Ohio.

"It's really wild that it's 2019 and Lancaster has yet to see a woman run for office, even a woman for mayor," Piko told "Good Morning America." "But here I am."

"GMA" followed the mayoral campaign of the recent college graduate who wanted to change her community and the world with big ideas about "sustainability" and "inclusivity." She was met with the more unglamorous aspects of running for office: broken websites, unanswered doors, tough questions and endless paperwork, until she ultimately lost to the older, male and white incumbent.

"I think the Tiffany then had a very naive idea of how politics were, especially at a local level," she said of who she was when she entered the race.

'Lancaster has yet to see a woman run for office'

In June 2019, four months ahead of the November election, Piko held all the optimism and passion of a young person entering the world of politics. She talked at length about wanting to bring city-wide recycling to her community for the first time.

"My three main platforms are an inclusive Lancaster that supports every citizen; recycling and city infrastructure; and changing the stigma and narrative around drug use and drug abuse," she said.

The daughter of a West Virginia native and a Tahitian immigrant, Piko was born and raised in Lancaster and said she felt "qualified to run for mayor" because "of my love for [the city]." Freshly returned to the Midwest from a four-year stint in New York City, she initially launched her campaign as part of a senior project while at The New School, Parsons School for Design.

"I am ready and willing to fight for anything that will make a positive change in the community," she said.

Lancaster is a mid-sized suburban town similar to many in the region: It has approximately 40,000 residents -- with over 94% of them white -- and nearly 20% of the town lives in poverty, according to U.S. Census data.

"The minority population in Lancaster is like 4% and that includes black, Hispanic, Asians, ‘other,’ and so in that way I’m not the most relatable figure," she said. "But I was born in this community, I grew up in this community, and there are so many people that know me on a personal level, and not just the way that I look."

Piko joined a growing movement of young people -- especially women -- getting involved in politics and starting a national conversation about what it means to hold office in a post-Donald Trump era when the concept of "political experience" is no longer top-of-mind.

She was also running in the wake of what has been dubbed the "Pink Wave," a recent explosion of women running for office at local levels that has upended many previous notions that elected officials must fit an older, male and overwhelmingly white mold.

When asked about her past leadership or experience in public office, Piko cited being captain of her high school track team. Yet, in response to critics who may slam this lack of experience, Piko noted that her town’s incumbent mayor also "never had political aspirations" prior to his initial run.

"He was kind of the one who proved that you could run for office," she said.

The incumbent, and her only opponent, Republican David Scheffler, took office in 2017 following a special election after the previous mayor resigned in the wake of a scandal involving an alleged gambling problem and failure to file state tax returns.

"Being mayor was never on my bucket list, I was talked into running for mayor," Scheffler, 71, said in an interview with "GMA" ahead of the election.

He outlined his goals for the town were to create "more jobs, more high-paying jobs [and] more residential opportunities across the whole spectrum of income."

Tiff Piko's father, Leo Piko, 49, from Wheeling, West Virginia, said he always told his children that they could do anything in America.

"I didn't realize how hard it was until she came home and showed me some Facebook posts," he said. "It's harder for a woman, especially a young woman, especially a biracial woman, because she was getting comments like, 'Well, are you gonna take away guns, are you against abortion … are you gay?’"

"When I look at the current mayor, when he ran, no one asked him about his age," Leo Piko said. "No one asked if he was gay, no one asked him if he was against abortion."

Piko received the endorsement and support of the nonprofit group First Ask, which seeks to recruit women to run for local and state offices. She had weekly calls with staffer Julia Knoerr, who helped advise her campaign.

"Tiffany was running in a highly majority Republican city and she faced a lot of pushback because she was trying to do something so different from what people were used to," Knoerr told "GMA." "She definitely faced pushback from people who said, 'You didn't have a chance.'"

Some other hurdles she faced as a first-time candidate where "name recognition" and a lack of "publicly available information on the voter demographic," according to Knoerr.

"Overall it was of course a learning process," Knoerr said. "The outcome was expected just based on past statistics and the fact that she was running in a heavy-majority Republican city as a Democrat."

"But I think how she was able to engage with her community members was pretty remarkable," Knoerr said.

Residents and voters in Lancaster interviewed by "GMA" ahead of the election had mixed reactions to Piko's mayoral bid, ranging from enthusiasm over a woman running for office to skepticism about her motivations.

One man said he thought her campaign was part of a "school project." A woman even said she was "not crazy about a woman mayor."

As the election approached, Piko spent many weekends door-knocking for her campaign, though very few people seemed to be home during her canvassing quests. For months, the campaign website she drove people to when asked about her platforms was down because of an issue with the domain.

During her campaign, which she committed to running with zero monetary donations, Piko admitted there were some "tight months" trying to cover her rent.

As election day arrived, Piko said she felt "older" and admits she had a "naive idea" of politics when she started out.

"The way that I saw Lancaster and running for office was very, like, small town," she said. "I don’t know, kind of like 'Gilmore Girls'-esque kind of, where it's very, like very communal. Everyone knows each other and there's no one trying to start up anything bad."

"The world's a little bit different," she added.

Election night

By election night on Nov. 5, 2019, Scheffler didn't even see Piko as competition.

"My biggest concern is whether the income tax increase passes," Scheffler told "GMA" on election night. "As far as the mayor’s election, I don't have any concerns."

Piko ended up losing the race -- winning 28% of the vote compared to Scheffler's 72%. Scheffler's tax increase did not pass.

As she watched the results roll in live, however, she was thrilled that 1,400 people in her town chose to believe in her.

"I knew people were excited to see me run because it was the first time a woman has done it," Piko said on election night. "But like, it really didn't hit me until tonight that this is the first time a woman has ever done this."

"People were excited about it. Like that's so cool. People there who supported this, who wanted this," she added. "And it's time. "

Ultimately, Piko said she hopes her campaign inspires "regular people" to enter politics or at least "try."

"One of my biggest beliefs is I think more people should run for office -- like regular people," she told "GMA."

"It's really great when people who are really passionate about things just get out there and try," Piko said. "I hope more of it starts to happen."

Katrina Stapleton created and designed the graphics for this video.