Ezra Nanes is originally from what he likes to call a small town east of Pennsylvania, otherwise known as New York City. Raised in midtown Manhattan by a father in dentistry and a mother in advertising, Nanes knew the city like the back of his hand.
He worked in the performing arts industry as an actor and performer before transitioning to event planning and sales. Knowing that he wanted to elevate his career and do something that used more of his intellect, Nanes applied for MBA programs and was accepted to Penn State’s Smeal College of Business.
In 2010, when he and his wife, Mieke, first visited Penn State, it was a long trip. Construction on I-80 seemed neverending, as did the frustration and cries of their two-month-old daughter.
“It was pretty much nonstop crying… We hit that Centre County line, and my wife and I were talking, and all of a sudden we notice something that was different. It was quiet in the car,” Nanes said.
Nanes and his wife checked into the Nittany Lion Inn and ate dinner at Whiskers while their daughter continued to sleep. She ended up sleeping through the night for the first time here in State College, which was a good sign to Nanes and his partner.
Naturally, Nanes accepted Penn State’s offer and spent two years obtaining his MBA. He was elected valedictorian by his class and spoke at graduation.
“That was kind of a pivotal moment because the ability to be there for your teammates and classmates and represent them in a setting like that is something that I’ve always carried with me,” Nanes said. “It’s why I love to be involved in civic life. I love to listen and support and engage with my teams and communities and organizations and then be able to be a voice for us.”
Following graduation, Nanes was searching for employment all over the country but was offered a product management job at AccuWeather, which is headquartered in Ferguson Township. By this time, his wife, Mieke, was expecting a second child and had assisted in starting a successful physical therapy practice.
In those nine years since Nanes and his family permanently settled down in State College, he’s continued to work at AccuWeather and excelled, winning the AccuWeather Champion of Excellence award in January. So, with a career in business and product management, how did his mayor candidacy come about?
Nanes admits that he was not always political. However, as a Jewish man, he recognized the many stories of enslavement and oppression within his religion. The presence of the Holocaust also lingered, ending fewer than 30 years before Nanes’ birth.
“Those stories planted something deep within me — a hunger for creating justice and fairness and equity in our society,” Nanes said.
Nanes notes that the “political awakening” occurred in Centre County around the 2016 elections, as it did in many other areas. He, his wife, and fellow community members got together and started organizing, including phone banking and sending postcards.
One evening, a neighbor asked if Nanes had ever considered running against state Sen. Jake Corman, the Benner Township Republican who has represented the 34th state Senate district since 1999. He hadn’t. But after looking at previous years, he found that Corman had gone uncontested in the past election.
“We cannot have too many uncontested elections for offices as important as that that have so much power. It’s very important that we have elections where people are forced to earn the votes,” Nanes said.
Fueled by concerns about another uncontested race and increasing injustices, Nanes launched a campaign for state senate in 2018 on the Democratic ticket. Though he did not win the election, he won Centre County with 52.58% of the vote to Corman’s 47.32%.
After that race, Nanes continued to be involved in the community behind the scenes. In 2019, he served as campaign chair for the entire slate of Democratic candidates that ran for local elections. In 2020, he was the fundraising chair for Peter Buck, who ran for the 171st District state House seat against state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, the House majority leader.
Following last year’s elections, Nanes began asking himself what the next step was. After looking at local seats that would be open and reflecting on his love for the community, he decided to run for mayor.
Nanes says that he brings energy and positivity to everything he does. He also said that his time in entertainment and business has also given him a strong sense of empathy and the ability to truly listen to other people and their struggles and feelings.
“The most important thing we have to do is to elevate and center the voices of underrepresented minorities in our community,” Nanes said.
He noted that though State College is a fantastic community, there are still issues with minorities not having adequate access to representation. Nanes said he plans to alleviate this stress on those communities by introducing a “Lived Experiences” forum as well as a student advisory board that would give people a platform to talk about their experiences in State College and on the Penn State campus.
Nanes also said that by allowing everyone to learn from each other, residents can ultimately work together efficiently to tackle bigger issues like sustainability and the current pandemic.
The pandemic is something that State College needs to tackle right now. Nanes said that, if elected, he would be a strong advocate for continued masking and social distancing until most everyone is vaccinated and potentially afterward in the case of additional surges.
Nanes said that affordable housing is another issue he hopes to address to reduce the rates of homelessness within the borough. He is also anticipating the creation of a community oversight board to provide direction on interactions with the police.
He added that Penn State students can, and should, use their voices to promote change within the borough.
“Students at Penn State can choose the next mayor of State College — if they want to,” Nanes said. “It may not seem important, but these primaries matter so much to our future.”
Nanes will face current State College Area School Board member and fellow Democrat Jim Leous in this spring’s mayoral primary, which is set for May 18. There are no candidates running in the GOP mayoral primary.