By We’Ced Youth Media
Photo via Daniel Sabzezhar
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth profile in We’Ced’s #MeetyourMercedCandidates series, which hopes to introduce young people and new voters in Merced to people running for office in their community. Both District 5 candidates, Daniel E. Sabzezhar and Matthew Serratto, were contacted. We requested candidates complete a questionnaire and submit their responses. Profiles posted are from candidates who responded to our request.
Name: Daniel Sabzehzar
Education: Senior at University of California, Merced
Occupation: Small Business Owner
Residence: Merced, California
Running for: Merced City Council, District 5
Why are you running for political office?
Growing up in the Valley shaped me. It made me who I am and the problems I’m passionate to solve. Merced is home, and it’s desperately in need of help. Our crime rate is among the nation’s highest. Over a third of our people [live] below the poverty line, and our children suffer from epidemics of chronic disease. But we also have world-class resources and, if we do things right, a chance to really reinvent Merced and transform the region that raised me.
Standing in the way of this new economy is a distinct and overt disconnect between campus and community. In 2005 we received an amazing gift. We became home to the first American research university in the 21st century, though UC, Merced has been a seemingly distant colony a couple miles north of Merced. But, as we recently broke ground on UC Merced’s new Downtown Center, we so commenced an entirely new chapter in the campus-community partnership… to be truly public-serving. And I came to recognize that it will take a member of both the local and campus community to steward the development of the synergistic, collaborative relationship that will be the engine of developing this new landscape.
What changes are you trying to enact/bring about in Merced?
Low socioeconomic status and a lack of opportunity stand at the core of our most pressing problems. We have to empower people to be in a position where they can be responsible for their own success. It begins by making it as easy as possible to work and do business in Merced, improving professional training opportunities/fortifying stronger, more accessible pathways into the workforce, and building policy around the pain points of small businesses to develop a robust economy more conducive to entrepreneurship.
How important is the youth vote for you? What are you doing to gain the youth vote?
Merced is host to the nation’s most disconnected youth (16 to 24 year olds neither working nor in school), and nearly sixty percent of the people in Merced are younger than 28. The youth are our city’s greatest stakeholders, and we have to empower them as such.
Most campaigns typically rely on putting out some big signs and sending mailers, [but] our campaign is changing the rules of engagement. We’re holding numerous neighborhood events, bringing thousands of young people to the conversation and registering them to vote through social media, creating a forum for conversation and engagement. We released a campaign video about 3 weeks ago that’s already gotten over 70,000 views, and roughly 25,000 of those views were by people under 25 in Merced. And they’re voting this year. They’re organized, mobilized, and motivated. This is going to be a historic election, and an extremely unique chance to revive our community’s democracy in crisis.
What makes you different from the other candidates?
Fifty percent of people in Merced are Latino, and six out of 10 are under 28. As a 21-year-old dual citizen of the U.S. and El Salvador, our candidacy is unique in that we accurately represent the people of this city—who have for far too long been without accurate representation.
How connected are you to the community of Merced?
From regularly picking up trash along Merced trails and walkways with Merced Walks, to advocating for our neighbors through hard-pressed questions at countless city council meetings, to organizing a social media campaign where members of the community could more easily communicate with the City Council for the recent Merced Town Halls, I see the needs and problems of Merced as my own. And in the last few months, I’ve been to over 1,500 doors and developed a sincere bond with our neighbors. I’ve spoken with thousands of people and gotten tremendous insight to the true heartbeat of our city.
What are you going to do about bringing more jobs to Merced?
We are witnessing one of the most significant paradigm shifts in the history of human labor. We’re no longer confined to cubicles and fluorescent lights. With a smartphone, laptop, and wifi connection, we have access to global markets and opportunities far beyond the walls of the valley. We have to educate and develop a workforce for the 21 century’s economy; and recognize that it will demand not just skilled, but intelligent labor. The only way we will create a truly sustainable job market is by investing in our city’s greatest natural resource, our people—focusing on long term revenues, and not short term payments.
Do you like animals? What is your favorite one?
I love animals, but don’t think I could choose a favorite. I had a golden retriever growing up and have always really liked dogs, but red pandas are the coolest so it’s a toss-up.
What are some of your hobbies?
I love the outdoors and like spending my days off mountain biking, snowboarding, and playing beach volleyball. I’m a trip guide for the Outdoor Experience Program at UC Merced and lead trips of all kinds (backpacking, surfing, white water rafting, etc.) across California and as far as Vancouver. Merced’s location is perfect, and adventure is always an earshot away.