A Republican is seriously considering running for mayor in 2013, potentially undermining the recent GOP strategy of suppressing turnout in heavily Democratic Buffalo to boost the party’s countywide candidates.
Sergio R. Rodriguez, a Medaille College administrator and Marine Corps veteran who ran for the Common Council in 2009, said Tuesday he is “100 percent committed” to challenging Democratic incumbent Byron W. Brown, who is expected to announce for a third term in February. His entry into the race would mark a departure for local Republicans, who in recent years have discouraged GOP candidates in Buffalo in order to tamp down turnout in the city and help them in countywide races.
While Rodriguez has yet to make a formal announcement and will not for several weeks, he said he is laying the foundation for a candidacy and is even beginning to build a campaign treasury.
Rodriguez, 32, said he fully recognizes the long odds for a Republican in Buffalo, where Democrats enjoy a 7-to-1 registration advantage. But he pointed to problems such as anemic graduation rates for high school students, crime and the city’s status as third-poorest in America.
“It has to be a campaign that transcends politics and instead inspires and uplifts,” he said.
Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy said that it was “premature” to comment on the mayoral race but called Rodriguez “a friend for whom I have a great deal of respect.” Langworthy added that he would defer in such matters to Buffalo Republican Chairman William E. Nowakowski, who was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
In recent years, countywide Republicans have had success with a strategy of not running candidates in the city. It provided an advantage to GOP candidates when few city contests drew Buffalo Democrats to the polls. Some Republicans were looking to embrace the same idea this year as GOP candidates such as County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw and Sheriff Timothy B. Howard seek re-election.
Indeed, the party has not elected a mayor of Buffalo since Chester A. Kowal back in 1961. And the GOP failed to field a candidate for the last mayoral election in 2009 for the first time since 1855, when Lewis L. Hodges represented the fledgling party. GOP candidates for Common Council and city-based County Legislature seats have also proven scarce in recent years, with only Rodriguez appearing on the 2007 city ballot as the candidate for the Council seat in the Niagara District.
Although Republicans have drawn criticism for expanding their suppression strategy in recent years, there is a tough reality that also has entered into the equation.
“Not many people want to sign up to get beat 70 to 30 percent,” former County Republican Chairman James P. Domagalski said in 2009.
Rodriguez says he doesn’t buy the strategy, however, and vowed to collect enough signatures on designating petitions to qualify for the November general election with or without the party’s help.
“Ignoring the city is something we can’t afford to do,” Rodriguez said. “It’s just like showing the white flag.”
Rodriguez said he already has encountered resistance among some party stalwarts who fear any uptick in city voter turnout stemming from his potential candidacy. He called that “mind-boggling,” noting the lack of future leadership resulting from the strategy.
“There’s concern there,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s a good reason not to run in the city.”
A Dominican native who immigrated with his family to Long Island when he was 10, Rodriguez said he has lived in Buffalo for about a decade. He said he has invested in various city properties, earned a master’s degree in organizational leadership from Medaille, and now works as the college’s coordinator of veterans and military affairs after holding a similar post in the administration of then-County Executive Chris Collins. He also serves as GOP chairman in the Niagara District.
At least one other serious candidate may be exploring a Republican candidacy, according to several sources.
On the Democratic side, former FBI official Bernard A. Tolbert is expected to decide soon whether he will challenge Brown in the Democratic primary in September.