21-year-old college student runs grassroots mayoral campaign

Stevie Danielle Merino is a 21-year-old anthropology major at Cerritos College, and like most students who are striving for higher education, she does her best to juggle homework, a part-time job and a social life. Unlike most students, however, Merino is also running for mayor.

The race for Mayor of Long Beach has been won by Bob Foster since 2006, and it seemed as though he would run unopposed this election until there was an unexpected addition to the ballot.

Merino's entry is not just extraordinary because of her youth, but also because she is running as a representative of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. If successful, Stevie Merino will be the youngest city mayor elected in the state of California since Russell "Rusty" Hammer won the vote for Mayor of Campbell in 1975 at the same age. Furthermore, she'd be California's first elected socialist mayor since 1911. The odds, suffice it to say, are against her. It has yet to be seen whether or not Long Beach is.

Merino, a life-long resident of Long Beach, claims that her city is primarily working class, and that its residents want the changes that Socialism offers.

"One of the reasons we're running is to take the negative connotation out of the idea of Socialism. Free housing, free education, free healthcare, these are things that people want and things that Socialism supports," says Merino. But Long Beach is just the beginning, claims Merino, adding, "Running for office is a way to spread socialism to the U.S. We're starting a movement here in Long Beach."

Despite the admitted stigma associated with socialism, Merino's campaign concentrates on appealing to people on a personal level, from conducting door to door introductions to opposing the deep pockets needed to fund a successful political campaign.

"Politicians are supposed to be a representative of the people," says Merino. So the people should be able to talk to them face to face." Merino insists that this truth alone has helped her grassroots strategy gain its remarkable momentum.

Merino deplores the fact that often the most important factor in winning is how much money a candidate has for his or her campaign.

"You have to have a lot of money to win [an election]. We're trying to expose that issue. Why should you have to be wealthy to run for a public office? Being super-rich or corporate-supported doesn't make you better qualified to serve the public."

But can a community college student expect to overcome the skepticism attached to her socialist platform to defeat an established New York democrat with decades of political and legislative experience?

"Unseating a well-funded incumbent like Foster would be a herculean undertaking, even for a well-known, well-funded and politically connected candidate," says Long Beach correspondent Paul Eakins, addressing the challenges faced by Merino's campaign.

Merino remains confident, however, saying that her experience as a community organizer makes her more appealing to voters than a candidate who caters to the agendas of big business in order to secure funding.

"Go door to door," says Merino. "Going to people's houses are [what] a lot of politicians haven't done, let alone marching for something or standing for something." Merino says.

According to socialist constituent Carlos Alvarez, Merino stands for the socialist mantra, "people over profits," calling her crusade "a fight back campaign, providing a voice opposing the status quo."

"We have to be a part of every struggle," he adds, "From the streets to the ballot box."

Merino remains noticeably active at both ends of the spectrum, from joining last Saturday's march for immigration reform through downtown Los Angeles while still aggressively promoting her mayoral candidacy. According to Merino, the community awareness her campaign brings to her is rewarding enough, no matter what happens when the polls close on April 13.

"It's not about winning or losing," says Merino resolutely, "It's about the community feeling informed and involved."