Staten Island’s First Black Borough President Candidate Faces Long Odds

Staten Island Borough President Candidate Brandon Stratford. Contributed photo

Seemingly underdog, Candidate Brandon Stradford, said he delights in being the first African-American to get on the ballot for Staten Island Borough President, made official last week.

Stradford called this a “historic moment” as he readies for the June primaries. “It’s not an easy task to campaign and depending on the timing, when you start and your resolve determines just how long you’ll hang in,” said Stradford.

He feels that over the years more diverse advocates have come forward for Staten Island elections. Stratford is not currently the only person of color in the race, fellow Democratic candidates Radhakrishna Mohan and Cesar A. Vargas are also diversifying the ballot for BP. 

Stradford said he’s not too worried about anyone cutting into his “base” of voters because everyone has their own corner they’re coming from and their own story.

Stradford is also not the highest in raising funds, coming in at just over $9,000 according to the latest filings, nor did he qualify for public matching funds last week. He said that he feels “all eyes” are on him and didn’t want to take a chance in collecting money before the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) certified his campaign on February 15. He claims that he has raised much more and will have qualifying amounts in the future once all the technicalities are taken care of.

Stradford said, as far as money goes in general, he doesn’t necessarily believe you have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars to win. His biggest opponents are definitely raising just that though. 

Stradford’s run for the borough presidency comes against long odds as Staten Island is the lone Republican stronghold borough in the city. This includes current term-limited Borough President James Oddo.

In the BP race, Republicans have a wide campaign war chest advantage in the race. Councilmember Steven Matteo has a combination of private and public funds that totals over $680,000 while business owner Leticia M. Remauro is second with about $219,000. Democrat Mark Murphy is trailing behind them with an estimated balance of $190,219. 

Stradford was a local college professor, who ran for Democratic incumbent State Senator Diane Savino’s seat twice in 2018 and 2020. He lost in 2018 and was withdrawn or disqualified in 2020. He said he had been inspired by the community coming together to get Councilmember Debi Rose elected in 2009 and the lack of political awareness among his students. He also worked in city government, HR, and constituent services for Rose for many years.

“I was attacked, not physically, but I was challenged and the network just didn’t exist. When I say network, I mean who was raising up people, who was grooming them to be ready, should they want to go into politics or public policy,” said Stradford, “That machinery wasn’t there.” 

He said his family being involved in the Island’s church, police, and the funeral business has allowed him to get to know the Island outside of his district. 

During the pandemic last year, Stradford said people were dying at such an alarming rate that his brother, who is a funeral director, had to deputize staff to handle bodies. 

“Not only did he deputize me and some other staff, but we took care of more than just Staten Island. If a family called and a loved one said they passed away this afternoon, we were there within a couple of hours because it was just awful,” said Stradford.

Stradford called his hometown an interesting microcosm, which is comparable to a “tale of three cities” as opposed to Mayor de Blasio’s segregated ‘two.’ North Shore in the 49th; Mid Island in the 50th; and South Shore in the 51st.

Staten Island’s county (Richmond) demographics are about 74% White, about 11% Black, and 18% Latino, according to census data. North Shore has the majority of public housing developments on the island, which are also mostly made up of Black and Brown families, said Stradford.

“When I lived in the projects, my two older brothers at the time, we’d put on our Catholic school uniforms. Walk up the street, and there would be a school bus waiting for us, but it wasn’t yellow and black. It was white with blue letters, and along this long road there were two neighborhoods where people would come out like clockwork and throw rocks,” said Stradford of his childhood in North Shore.

“I remember how things were and that’s not to say that’s how they are, but remnants still exist,” added Stradford. 

Stradford said subtle privilege and microaggressions still pervade the political realm of Staten Island, but he wants to change that by connecting with every and all “real Staten Islanders” like him regardless of race or neighborhood.