When Sergio Rafael Rodriguez arrived in this country with his parents at age 10, he did not know the language or the culture. He didn’t know why his family left the Dominican Republic for Suffolk County, Long Island.
Within two years, the inquisitive youngster would be packing groceries, working for tips at a local food store. At age 18, Rodriguez joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and after a five-year tour, he moved to Buffalo, lured by the affordable housing and at the suggestion of an uncle who lived here.
Today Rodriguez is looking to the future on many levels. At age 33, the man who lost a spirited campaign for Buffalo mayor is engaged to be married. Currently unemployed, Rodriguez remains determined to be successful in his next political run.
People Talk: Are you happy?
Sergio Rodriguez: I am. I try and live simply, though I know my car (Chrysler 300) would make people think differently. For the past 10 years I have been sleeping on a twin-size bed. My fiancée, Morgan, convinced me to get a bigger bed. I don’t want to feel too comfortable at home. I feel like if I’m stuck in my house then I’m not out there networking.
PT: Are you frugal by nature?
SR: Very. I have been saving up the past three years so I can run for mayor. That’s what I have been living off of is my savings.
PT: Is running for office a long-term goal?
SR: It’s my lifelong dream. Actually the goal is higher than that. Since I was a young boy, I wanted to be president of the Dominican Republic. That was influenced by my grandmother. Every time I would visit her she would tell me to pretend I was president and give a speech from on top of a chair or table. Ever since then, I believed I could be the president.
PT: You have an easy way about you.
SR: Ironically, I’m an introvert by nature. I’m not necessarily – and I know this is going to blow your mind – social by nature. I went through phases in life. I joined the Marine Corps. It toughens you up.
PT: Do you have trouble being taken seriously?
SR: I don’t. I think perhaps at some point I did. When I first came to Buffalo nobody knew what to make of me. I joined the Young Republicans two weeks after coming to Buffalo. They just looked at me like, “Who is this guy? Is he a mole from the Democratic party?” I was the only person of color in that group. But because I’m relatively consistent and people see who I am and my body of work, I don’t think there’s any other way of looking at me.
PT: You left a good job as coordinator of veterans affairs at Medaille College to enter the mayor’s race. A lot of people may question your sanity.
SR: You’re right. A lot of people think I’m delusional, or plain crazy. When I talked to my campaign strategy team, they told me not to leave my job. But you know what? My entire life I’ve been told that I can’t do this and I can’t do that. Every single time I do it. I see this as no greater a challenge than other things I’ve taken on. I was 22 years old when I purchased my first home, and I didn’t have any co-signer. But I had been saving up for years just to be able to put a down payment on a home.
PT: Didn’t you meet your fiancee at Medaille?
SR: We met when I was seeking my master’s degree, and she was pursuing her bachelor’s. Morgan Woodson is an Air Force veteran. We have a lot of things in common. We deliberately said that we would not set a date during campaign season. During the next couple of weeks we’ll sit down and figure out the best date, and all the logistics.
PT: How do you relax?
SR: I like to read technology news, Google news. I started my own Internet publishing company. We publish military videos we get from the Department of Defense. We also have a magazine for education benefits for veterans.
PT: What has been your finest moment?
SR: When I was pinned with the Marine Corps anchor on my uniform after graduating boot camp, That’s when I felt the most accomplished ever – and earning my United States citizenship. I was very proud to get my citizenship paperwork. Finally I am an American.
PT: Is becoming an American citizen challenging?
SR: You know initially I resisted it. Hispanics tend to be very prideful. You can’t take my country, my culture from me even though we’re here. But my father instilled in us that we have to embrace the American way of life. Then you get external pressure from people. A lot of people are prejudiced. They’ll make fun of you because of your accent.
PT: You’re a one-name wonder. Move over Madonna, Cher. We have Sergio.
SR: That’s crazy. I think it started happening a few years back when I was being introduced by people who would just call me Sergio. And I’m thinking, “What happened to my full name? What happened to Mr. Rodriguez?” But people would do it without even thinking, so instead of letting that bother me I let them do it.
PT: What gets you down?
SR: I hope this isn’t cheesy: injustice.
PT: What are your career plans?
SR: I want to look at the political landscape to see what districts may be ready. The top three districts in terms of votes were Delaware, South and obviously Niagara where I’ve heard Council Member Rivera is thinking of retiring. Politics is my life. It is what I live for. I’m going to reinstate myself in the nonprofit organizations I belong to – the Hispanic Heritage Council, Buffalo Naval and Military Park, Boy Scouts of America.
PT: Anything else?
SR: I personally grew up witnessing my father dreaming and his dreams getting squashed. I didn’t like the fact that he stopped dreaming. That has always been my biggest fear – to become jaded. I will try to always preserve the little Sergio inside of me – the dreams – and to not let that ever die.