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10 Questions With State College Mayor Ezra Nanes

Now that he’s got a few weeks on the job under his belt, State College Mayor Ezra Nanes sat down with Onward State to talk about the borough, Penn State, family life, and more.

Onward State: Can you walk us through your path from New York City to State College?

Ezra Nanes: The path was I-80, straight on out. Seriously, though, I was working in New York City, running a conference center for Bank of America, and I did an event for the executive director of the Smeal MBA program. I had been applying to MBA programs because I wanted to go back to school and take my career to the next level, and the executive director encouraged me to apply to Penn State.

So, I applied [to Smeal], I got an interview, and my wife and I drove out with our baby girl. It also turns out that the first night that we spent in State College was the first night that our daughter slept through the night in her whole life, so it was a magic moment for us.

I loved the people I met, and I just got a great feeling from everybody. I was walking out of the interview to get in the car, and the director of the program came running out and said, “You got in.” Of course, we decided to come here, and we were so excited to move to State College.

OS: How has your family supported you through the campaign and election process?

EN: I am the one serving in office, but it’s the effort of a family that makes that possible. It’s really a team effort, and my family is the core of my team. My wife, Mieke, is an incredible partner, supporter, and sounding board. Our children are incredibly passionate about the issues that matter, and they’re very engaged in it.

Extending beyond the core of our family, my mom is a rock. Our extended family provides so much love to all of us. I could go on and tell you about my aunts, uncles, and cousins. They’re just really wonderful people.

The love of family is just so essential. Every day, they make it possible. Sometimes I miss bedtime with the kids, and Mieke covers for me. The kids know why I’m not there as well. So I’m really blessed to have their support.

OS: What projects or initiatives are you most excited to work on and implement?

EN: If you want to talk about excitement, let’s talk about bikes. I feel that we have a huge opportunity in front of us for the community to make major investments and commit long-term plans to bike and pedestrian safety and infrastructure. Bikes are really critical as an element of a multimodal transportation system.

This is a wonderful region to bike in. There are a lot of great biking opportunities, but not all of the infrastructure is connected. There are great pieces of biking… and they dead end in places that are not safe for bikes. My feeling is that anybody of any age ought to be able to safely get on their bike and ride from point A to point B to access the resources of the community.

We’re in a unique time where there is money coming in from the federal government, large amounts, from the American Recovery Act and the Infrastructure Act. It’s not money that comes around every five or ten years; it’s once-in-a-generation money. So, we need to tap into that to make these investments for bike infrastructure.

It will allow people to access the resources in State College, it will take cars off the road, and it will reduce pressure on parking. It will reduce carbon emissions, and it will increase the health of the people who live here. It has so many positive impacts and makes the community more accessible.

I would also like to see this continue to be a place that is even more inclusive for people from the LGBTQ+ community, but also for people of color, people from different nationalities, religious backgrounds, and of different abilities. We need to make this a place that welcomes, protects, and empowers all people.

OS: Obviously, one mayor can’t do everything that a city needs. Who do you work most closely with?

EN: Being in municipal government is truly a team effort. I work closely with the State College Borough Council, who are my fellow elected officials, and we then work closely with our borough administration staff. Running a municipal government efficiently and effectively is very difficult, and we have a high-performing organization in our municipal government.

There are phenomenal department heads, so I also work closely with the permanent staff in the borough. I also have a network of friends and colleagues across the municipality and beyond, and those connections are very important.

OS: As mayor, what does a typical day look like for you, if there is such a thing?

EN: There is no typical day, but there are some typical things that appear in a lot of days as mayor. I meet and talk with a lot of people. Every day, I’m fielding emails and communications from members of the community with things that matter to them.

I schedule lots of phone calls and attend a lot of meetings and events. I preside over the Borough Council, and I attend executive sessions, meetings of the Downtown State College Improvement District, and [several other committees and boards].

These are great places to come and connect with other people in the community who are doing work to move us forward. It’s a lot of engaging with groups and individuals.

OS: What do you think will be your largest challenge while in office?

EN: One of the biggest challenges that I face is time management. I also work full time at Accuweather, and I have the mayoral role, which could have unlimited use of time. I have to really effectively manage my time so that I can focus and have productive time in my day where I can be creative.

Also, technology [is a challenge]. I have my personal email, a personal laptop, a work email, a work laptop, my borough email, my borough laptop, and I have calendars. And you can’t mix them. All of those things have to have a separation.

So one of the challenges I’m working on is figuring out how to have a technology system that works efficiently so that I don’t have to put one laptop down and pick up another. I’m blessed to have support within the borough so that I can have help with fielding emails and scheduling.

OS: How does the presence of Penn State (both its students and as an institution) influence your duties as mayor?

EN: State College and Penn State are parts of a whole. We have a great symbiosis, and it’s a very important relationship. One of my biggest efforts for the early part of my tenure is to start building strong relationships with the administration at Penn State.

I had the opportunity to have a phone call with the incoming president Dr. Bendapudi, and I feel she’s going to be a wonderful president for the university. I also will be meeting with Dr. Barron before he concludes his tenure because there are still another four months, and a lot can happen in four months. Establishing those relationships is absolutely critical.

As far as the students go, I want students to feel that they are not only welcomed here but that they are essential parts of our community. I want them to feel the opportunity and even responsibility to help shape the direction that we go in.

Whether you’re here for a two-year graduate program or eight years, you live here for that time. You wake up, eat food, go to sleep, fall in love, plan your future, work, study; you do such important things. These are precious years of your lives, so let’s make them enriching and make them a part of what State College is.

OS: What impact do you want to leave on the State College community?

EN: In my life, I want to lift people up and elevate the people around me. I want to have a positive impact on the people with who I engage. I hope that in my four-year tenure, I am able to elevate the community, energize people, help people see the value and brilliance in other people, and help the people in this community to recognize their own unique and valuable contributions.

OS: When you’re not in the office, how do you relax and destress?

EN: The first thing is family time — that’s essential. We love to go out into nature and have adventures, and that’s a big thing for me. I’m an adventure sports athlete. I mountain bike, road bike, run, ski, swim, backpack, and my whole family does all of these things with me.

I also love the arts and the culture in this community, from The State Theatre to Three Dots to Blue Brick Theatre. I love to listen to music, whether it’s at home or when we go out and see bands.

OS: Per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, what dinosaur would you be and why?

EN: You gotta go with the T-Rex. You have one shot to be a dinosaur, you might as well be a T-Rex. I think it would be cool to have that kind of power and speed and to be that tall and have such a good view of things. I will say, I don’t know how I would feel about ripping other animals apart. A close second on this one would be a pterodactyl. Just imagine flying over that ancient primordial world and what it would look like.

Editor’s Note: Responses have been slightly edited for length and clarity.

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About the Author

Haylee Yocum

Haylee Yocum is a sophomore in the Schreyer Honors College studying Immunology and Infectious Disease. She is from Mifflintown, PA, a tiny town south of State College. She is a coffee addict, loves Taylor Swift, and can't wait to go to a concert again. Any questions can be directed to @hayleeq8 on Twitter or emailed to [email protected]

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