High School Senior Sets Sights on Job of Hermiston Mayor

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Hermiston High School senior Manuel Salazar has entered the race for mayor. The 18-year-old joins three current Hermiston City Councilors in the race to succeed Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann. (Photo by Yasser Marte/East Oregonian)

What were you doing during your senior year in high school? Maybe prepping for your SATs or looking at job prospects. Or maybe you were simply looking for the next party.

What the vast majority of high school seniors don’t do is run for mayor of their city. But that’s exactly what Hermiston High School senior Manuel Salazar is doing. He filed to run in January and joins three current Hermiston City Councilors who have also filed – Nancy Peterson, Jackie Linton and Doug Primmer.

While an 18-year-old student running for mayor might surprise a lot of people, it’s not surprising to those who know Salazar.

John Fisher, instructor for the Hermiston Think Big Space, has been impressed with Salazar’s involvement in the community.

“I think it’s incredible the level of civic engagement he has,” Fisher said. “And what he has learned he brings into the classroom and shares with the other students. He keeps his classmates informed as to what’s going on in the community.”

The high school senior is not unfamiliar with the workings of city government. He currently serves on three committees for the city of Hermiston – the Hermiston City Council Youth Advisory Committee, as well as advisory committees for the parks department and the planning commission.

Now he has his sights set on succeeding Mayor Dave Drotzmann, who is running for state Senate rather than seeking another term as mayor.

“I have been thinking about running for mayor since the beginning of my junior year,” Salazar said. “It’s definitely not something I’ve been thinking about my whole life.”

Salazar, who has a 22-year-old brother, Martin, and a 10-year-old sister, Ilene, initially kept his candidacy quiet from his parents, Elutrio Salazar and Eustolia Gomez. But after a few weeks, he finally told them. After all, they were going to find out sooner or later.

“They were surprised, but very supportive,” he said.

Salazar said concerns over safety in Hermiston’s parks got him to consider running for mayor.

“Kids are afraid to go to McKenzie Park because of the criminal element,” he said. But it was when a woman, during a city council meeting, complained about strangers going around her neighborhood attempting to open front doors that Salazar made his final decision.

“I didn’t feel the council took her concerns seriously and I said so during the meeting,” he said. “Afterward, she came up to me and thanked me. That was a big factor and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to run.’”

But like any good student, Salazar did his homework by talking with Drotzmann and Boardman Mayor Paul Keefer about the job.

Salazar said he learned that leadership plays a big part in being mayor.

“The council makes the final decisions, but the mayor can steer the conversation in a certain direction,” he said. “The mayor has the most influence on the council.”

He said both mayors “were very encouraging and told me to go for it.”

Salazar said he never wanted to be the kind of person who chooses to sit on the sidelines while still griping about what’s going on.

“I think we can do better,” he said. “That’s why I’m running.”

Salazar said he has three primary issues he’s running on – cut what he calls “excessive spending,” finish projects already started, and add officers to the police department. He would also like to see Hermiston make better use of available land rather than continue to annex property into the city limits.

“How do we make the most of the land we have,” said Salazar, who plans to attend Portland State University and pursue a degree in urban planning. “I want more efficiency with the land we have so everybody is not so spread apart.”

The mayor’s job is a nonpartisan position, which suits Salazar just fine, seeing how his two political heroes were from different parties – President Dwight Eisenhower and President John Kennedy.

Salazar admires Ike for his warning about the growing power and influence of the military industrial complex. He admires JFK for his “stellar performance” during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“They are two different people but both great,” Salazar said. “If they ran against each other, I wouldn’t have known who to vote for – both would be awesome.”

He said he has the support of many of his friends and classmates but wants them to vote for him for the right reasons.

“I don’t want them to vote for me because they know and like me,” he said. “I want them to vote for me because of the ideas and values I have.”

Salazar is already a busy 18-year-old. He is involved in the school’s drama department as well as the chamber choir and Majesty, the school’s jazz choir. He is also involved in FBLA. He said the job of mayor will be another demand on his time.

“I’m getting better at time management,” he said with a smile.

Salazar knows the odds are against him and that he may end up playing the role of spoiler by helping to get another candidate elected. But he is running to win.

“If you go into a campaign expecting to lose, then what’s the point of running? I really want to help improve the lives of the people of Hermiston and I need to win to do that.”

1 COMMENT

  1. This stunt was tried in Union OR years ago.
    It didn’t go so well…
    Nice of this young fella to try but honestly, the ladt thing Hermiston needs is a teenage mayor with
    NO LIFE EXPERIENCE guiding us as Mayor…

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