Michael Michaelson, dressed in khakis and a crisp blue oxford cloth shirt, sits at a conference table in a back room at the Shipyard Brewery in downtown Portland.

To his right is Portland City Council candidate Brandon Mazer, who is Shipyard’s general counsel. Four other campaign volunteers are gathered around the table.

Michaelson, Mazer’s campaign manager, gets right down to business.

“I’m going to segue to what we need (to get done) and then we can jump back to messaging,” he says.

This campaign is a first for Mazer, a Democrat. He’s never run for political office before.

But Michaelson? He’s an old pro, having been at the helm of two successful Portland City Council races in the past two years.

His interest in politics goes way back – well, as far back as you can go when you’re 17.

“I remember counting stickers on John Kerry’s campaign,” Michaelson, a senior at Waynflete School, says with a smile.

That was in 2004. When he was 6.

“He’s always had a passion for social justice,” says his mother, Kate. “When he was little, he had this children’s encyclopedia and he would carry it everywhere with him and he’d go through it and bookmark all of his heroes: Corazon Aquino. Martin Luther King.”

That interest continued through elementary school.

“In sixth grade he was reading Ted Kennedy’s biography, so none of this is new,” says Emily Graham, Michaelson’s longtime adviser at Waynflete. “He’s always been really comfortable in his own skin, and he’s never been shy about following the things he’s passionate about.”

Michaelson cut his political teeth when he volunteered 40 hours a week on the same-sex marriage campaign in the summer of 2012. For him, that cause was personal: His aunt and her longtime partner hoped to be married in Maine.

“I knew that I wanted to get involved … and do something to make sure that they could get married,” he says. “It was a tremendous experience. … I had the chance to meet a lot of people who really cared about these issues.”

Caring about issues is what drives him. Michaelson is an unabashed idealist who believes in the power of political process to change the world.

“It’s … the idea that we can affect these big political issues that make a difference in everybody’s life,” he says. “Especially with a municipal race. They’re just so small I think I can have a substantial impact, and that’s really meaningful to me.”

His first shot at a City Council race was three years ago when Councilor-at-large Jill Duson was running for re-election.

“All the city councilors’ email addresses are on the city’s website,” he says, “so I sent her an email and said, ‘I don’t know what sort of campaign you’ve got, but I would love to get involved and see if I can help out.'”

Duson agreed to meet him for coffee.

“He had a laptop with him,” she says, “and I said, ‘Well, tell me about your background.’ He proceeds to open up the laptop and take me through a PowerPoint presentation.”

Duson was sold. She asked Michaelson, whom she describes as an “old soul,” if he’d like to manage her campaign. Did she have any qualms about the fact that he was 14?

“Absolutely not,” she says. “He has this energy around his commitment to impacting the community he lives in that is certainly beyond his years.”

It’s that commitment that convinced Mazer that Michaelson was the man to manage his campaign.

“I actually, frankly, saw a lot of myself in him,” Mazer says. “I was the high school senior helping on campaigns, … so once I saw what his experience was it was a no-brainer for me.”

But Mazer wasn’t the only one making sure this potential partnership was a good fit.

“When we were sitting across the table (during their first meeting) I’m not sure who was interviewing who,” Mazer says, laughing.

Michaelson prefers to work his magic – strategizing, fundraising, scheduling and overseeing campaign events – behind the scenes. He has no interest in running for office himself.

Next year he’s headed to college, where he plans to major in political science or economics.

And while he’ll be busy during those four years, he hopes to find time to continue the work he loves.

“I think everybody has some sort of passion,” he says. “This happens to be mine.”