Alex Merced Wants to Be Famous
Meeting the Libertarian Senate Candidate for New York
Alex Merced wants to be famous. As a child, he recorded videos with his brother and cousins on an old VHS camcorder. Later he discovered the guitar and planned to become a rock star. In college, he put “Alex Merced Fan Club“-flyers in all of the classrooms. At the next party, nobody knew what he was famous for — but everybody knew him. “Lot’s of times, fame is just people believing you are famous,” he says. Today, Merced has more than 25 Facebook fan pages bearing his name. He (half-jokingly) calls his birthday the “Alex Merced Awareness Day.” And he even sells t-shirts for the occasion.
But for a person so interested in fame, Alex Merced chose a curious field to perform in: libertarianism. The 30-year old is running for New York’s senate seat, facing incubent Chuck Shumer on November 8.
Third party commentary instead of rocking guitars. A Wall Street job instead of touring the country. Politics instead of pop culture. And all of it, because of FOX News.
Last spring, 30 people assembled in the worn back room of the Ukrainian East Village Restaurant on Second Avenue, ordering pierogies and beef stroganoff. Flyers scattered across the long wooden table read “Freedom is my favorite F-word,” a libertarian party slogan. Alex Merced was one of the first guests to arrive. Although the Brooklynite is web chair of the Brooklyn Libertarian Party, he regularly comes to the Manhattan meetings as well. By the end of the night he was voted in as co-media chair. “He has done a lot of the work that the party needs,” said Hesham El-Meligy, the Chair of the Staten Island LP, who was sitting across from Merced.
Like their name suggests, libertarians value liberty, independence and individual choices. In general, they are against taxes, against government interference and for a free market. At the same time, they have long supported gay rights and marriage equality. The Libertarian Party was founded in the early 1970s, but there is also a branch of Republicans who support libertarian ideas (most notably Ron Paul and his son Rand). “The golden rule is basically: Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to yourself,” explained Merced.
A week after the Manhattan party gathering, I met the young libertarian and aspiring household name in his workplace on Wall Street, a beige classroom two streets from the New York Stock Exchange. Merced sat in the last of three rows of tables, facing a white board, a tangled mess of eight colorful portable chargers behind him (“I never let my battery die!”). Here, the pop culture major trains Wall Street CEOs and new hires alike how to pass financial license exams.
Merced, who describes himself as a “Latino libertarian activist” and “hipster tech geek,” has curly black hair, a one-day stubble and the well-hidden beginnings of a paunch. The 30-year-old added color to his Wall Street outfit by combining his grey suit with an orange shirt, big blue cuff links and red striped socks. Merced is very articulate and hardly ever uses verbal fillers. When he talks, he doesn’t move his body much — in fact, his hands barely ever left his laptop during the interview; always on the brink of working, but never actually doing it — but his enthusiasm came across through his strong facial expressions.
The son of immigrants — his mother is from Guatemala, his father from Puerto Rico — grew up in Manchester, Connecticut. Together with his younger brother he was raised by a single mother, whom he calls his biggest inspiration. They started out on welfare in “fairly abject poverty,” but by they time he graduated high school they were living in a nice house in a good neighborhood. “My mom just had this will to do it,” Merced said.
<<Then I realized, shit, no, I am a libertarian.>>
Merced sees his whole life as a sequence of events that all came together to form his present self. The best example is the summer he spent travelling in the Philippines. The apartment he stayed in had only one news channel: Fox. That is how the then 22-year-old ended up watching a 2007 Republican primary debate. That is where he first saw Ron Paul. Soon after he was a libertarian.
“If I’d never booked that trip to the Philippines, I would still be a liberal today and I probably would have moved to Chicago to become a rock star,” reflects Merced. Instead he immersed himself in economics and moved to New York. “That’s sort of the course of my life,” Merced said. “It was like, perfect. It was just serendipity.”
“Ron Paul really changed my life,” Merced exclaimed, laying his hand over his heart. “Before I always thought, maybe I am just a more moderate liberal. Then I realized, shit, no, I am a libertarian.”
Like many libertarians, Merced doesn’t believe “government is where solutions are.” Instead he prefers “more local” politicians. “I even prefer non-governmental politicians,” he told me. “In most communities the real power brokers are not necessarily the elected politicians, they are community leaders.” Merced believes there is greater accountability within a local community, where the “politician” interacts with the community on a day to day basis.
His newfound love for politics, didn’t mean that Merced gave up his quest for popularity though. He soon started blogging as a libertarian commentator. And from there it only spread. Today, Merced runs so many projects that describing him as a multi-tasking workaholic is an understatement. Besides his Wall Street job, he produces several weekly podcasts and YouTube videos (over 2,000 so far), runs his blog AlexMerced.com as well as the online publication Libertarian Wing Media and LibertarianSocial.com (“a social network for the libertarian crowd”) and still records music (both electronic and acoustic) that he releases online. Not to mention filling the aforementioned 20+ Facebook pages with content.
“There is no moment of my day, where I am not working on something,” explained Merced. This became more than obvious when I met him and his wife of two years, Becky Brill, at a coffee shop. “If we leave now, he probably wouldn’t notice,” whispered Brill pointing to the phone glued to her husband’s hand. Merced did, in fact, not even realize we were talking about him. He was creating a meme about taxation to post on his blog.
While most of his life takes place online, Merced overflows with real-life charisma as well. “I don’t think I have ever met a person who didn’t like him,” said his wife. “Most of the time he owns the dinner table,” added his younger brother Tony. And his former assistant, Jesus Cabrera, still gushes about their time together: “He is an amazing person, a role model.”
For a long time, Merced was an active libertarian, but he wasn’t active in the Libertarian Party. That changed in 2013, when he was asked to run as their New York City candidate for public advocate. “It worked out really well,” says Merced. He received over 10,000 votes, which was more than any other solely libertarian candidate got.
Ever since then, Merced has been active with the different New York chapters of the Libertarian Party. “I would describe him as somebody who has a kind heart who wants to educate people,” said fellow party member Hesham El-Meligy.
His family and party colleagues see Merced more as a pundit and less as a political operative, but Merced couldn’t resist running for office again. At the end of April, he was confirmed as the libertarian Senate candidate for New York.
And then there is always 2024 — when he will be old enough to run for president. “I might run for fun,” Merced said laughing. “I don’t know if I wanna be president. But I wanna run. It’s a good platform to talk about the issues. People are always more willing to listen to a presidential candidate.” They are also more likely to remember your name. Fame is still awaiting Alex Merced after all.