Sergio R. Rodriguez knows the odds are stacked against the election of any Republican as mayor of Buffalo.
Indeed, it hasn’t happened since 1961.
But the Medaille College administrator had a ready answer in Niagara Square on Wednesday as he declared his GOP candidacy for mayor and dismissed any idea that party labels mean everything in overwhelmingly Democratic Buffalo.
“Do you think a single mother out there, worried about putting food on her table and their kids being involved in gang activities, do you think she’s worried about whether it’s a Democrat or Republican in City Hall?” he asked. “I don’t believe Republicans or Democrats have a monopoly on how to run a city administration effectively.”
Rodriguez begins his super-underdog quest without any real advantages, other than emerging as the first Republican since Kevin J. Helfer in 2005 to even volunteer to run for mayor. As he launched an effort to unseat incumbent Democrat Byron W. Brown, the Marine Corps veteran gathered a crowd of about 25 supporters for his announcement – featuring not a single recognizable Republican face.
Add to that a campaign treasury of about $1,100, and it’s understandable why City GOP Chairman William E. Nowakowski says the Republican ticket is far from settled.
“He’s out there, but he’s got to show us he’s capable of a viable challenge,” he said. “We like Sergio; he’s a good kid. We’re still looking for other candidates.”
Still, Nowakowski did not dismiss the possibility that Rodriguez may emerge as the GOP candidate this year, even though some Republicans would prefer no November contest. They hope that as in 2009 when no Republican ran, turnout could prove lower in Democratic Buffalo to the advantage of the party’s countywide candidates.
Rodriguez, 32, nevertheless looked like a committed candidate as he attracted a phalanx of cameras and reporters to the front of City Hall. The Dominican native started his speech by relating the story of his immigration to the United States in search of opportunity, and how he believes Buffalo can offer just that with the right leadership.
Most of his remarks then followed that theme as he continually suggested that better leadership from the mayor can overcome daunting problems of poverty, crime, and especially, education.
“Mayors in other cities within New York State are doing something about it,” he said, citing the efforts of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie A. Miner for public schools. “They are getting involved and taking a proactive approach. They have found that the best way to address a failing education system is by dealing with it head-on.”
Rodriguez said a high school graduation rate of about 50 percent is “alarming and threatens the future stability of our community,” and questioned why a school system spending $27,000 per student each year registers such dismal results.
He also said he does not envision running an ethnic campaign aimed at the minority vote, despite challenges faced by African-Americans and Hispanics like himself.
“I understand these issues,” he said. “However, this will be a campaign that transcends all of that. Black, Hispanic, white – it doesn’t matter. We’re all in this together.”
Rodriguez serves as Medaille’s coordinator of military and veterans affairs and is a South Buffalo resident.
Brown, meanwhile, is expected to announced his candidacy for a third term within the next few weeks. Another Democrat, Bernard Tolbert, is also weighing a challenge to Brown in the primary, but has yet to make a decision.