Categorized | Bronx Beats, Politics

Why would a Black Republican run for State Assembly in the Bronx?

Alpheaus Marcus strode through the doors of a regularly scheduled city parks committee meeting on Turnbull Avenue in the Bronx one Tuesday night in September, his 6-foot-1-inch frame drawing attention from the local audience.

The 47-year-old Bronx resident took the opportunity to announce his candidacy for New York State Assembly.

“Really? I didn’t see you on the ballot,” said Nicholas Himidian, the community district chairperson, referring to the Democratic ticket of candidates. Confused stares followed.

Another audience member broke the awkward silence: “He’s running Republican,” the resident said. “I don’t know why people in the Bronx assume everyone has to be running Democrat.”

It was a jarring point. Community activist, father of two sons, Alpheaus Marcus is a rarity, particularly in the Bronx, the borough with the highest percentage of Democrats in the city at 77 percent.

What drove Marcus to run as a Republican, in a race he has little chance of winning? Turns out he wasn’t always a Republican. And, he said, he expects to win, against all odds.

Like 67 percent of all black registered voters in New York City, Marcus has until now been a registered Democrat. Always interested in politics, he became active in Letitia James’s campaign for Public Advocate in 2014, a race that she won, and recently parlayed into the Democratic nomination for State Attorney General in September. Marcus’s aim was to support a woman of color for this influential citywide elected position, a dedication that quickly turned sour for him.

With his bird’s-eye view from inside her campaign, Marcus slowly came to the conclusion that James was not going to tackle the challenging issues he cared most about — ending discrimination against colored children in public schools by giving public schools the same quality of teachers as charters and private schools.

“She, like many other politicians, has forgotten about the communities who elected them,” said Marcus, adding that he believes her allegiance has turned more to those who financed her campaign. “No return to the community has taken place.” Calls to James’s campaign for comment were not returned.

His disillusion from the Democrats was complete when he decided to run unopposed as a Republican for State Assembly in the 87th District.

One door closed, another one opened. He feels he has a chance to win the assembly seat because his campaign is focused on the community, while he said his opponent, Democratic nominee Karina Reyes, is all about receiving the popularity vote.

Reyes does not understand how Marcus can call himself a Republican, yet run on a Democratic platform. “He is an opportunist,” Reyes concluded. “It’s simple as that.”

Marcus considers his move to the Republican ticket as another way to reach a broader audience. “When I die I want to touch so many people that I have four funerals,” Marcus said.

With zero contributions from any outside organizations, Marcus is independently funding his campaign with the help of family and some community members who make posters and flyers.

On October 16, Marcus sat for a video interview with the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a free public access cable station where he discussed his ideas about public education system and criminal justice.

Interview at Manhattan Neighborhood Network Photo Credit: Olivia Eubanks

The interviewer, Greg Lassiter, a black conservative, confronted Marcus about the futility of running as a Republican with a Democratic platform.

“How are you going to propose your ideas to a party that doesn’t support them?” Lassiter said.

“I’m going to change the game,” Marcus fired back. “Bring in a new voice to the party.”

Family and friends questioned why Marcus was abandoning the party in which he was raised. “As a kid who grew up in the inner-city, I don’t understand how he can be a Republican,” said Lamond Moultrie, a friend of 30 years. “How can he help the black community when he’s joined the party that doesn’t stand by any of our views?”

Marcus stands by his opinion that the Democratic party is overpopulated with African-Americans and nothing is getting done.

“Whether we go Republican or Democrat, we have to look at the bigger picture,” Marcus said. “If we are not getting justice in one party we have to get it in another.”

At least one family in the Bronx is in his corner and disregards his political affiliation. The Roberts family is deeply grateful for Marcus’s dedication to finding justice for their 17-year-old relative, Vlana, who was gunned down in the Bronx in June.  Marcus spent three months working with Kirk Stinson, Vlana’s brother, to bring the killer to justice.

A teen was finally arrested for her murder. “Marcus is a good man,” said Stinson. “He helped me by not giving up the fight in bringing my sister justice. Just as he won’t give up the good fight to make the community better.”

Born in Harlem, Alpheaus was the oldest child of six on his mother’s side. His father had 19 more children.  Marcus was raised by his grandmother on 7th Avenue and 14th Streets. He attended Westside High School now known as Ed Reynolds High School.

In 2004, he became of member of the Free Masons. From high school he went on to Hostos Community College, transferring to John Jay College in 2017 to complete his criminal justice degree. Currently, he is taking a break from school for the campaign but plans to finish this degree by 2020, and then attend law school.

Through his teen years, Marcus said he was heavily involved with the drug and crime scene on the streets of Harlem. At age 20, he noticed that his friends were getting older, yet their lives were not amounting to much. He didn’t want the street life to be the end of his story, so he decided to turn his life around.

In 2003, he left the dead-end drug life, and the influences of his friends, and moved to the Bronx. The catalyst for change was the birth of his oldest son, JaiQuan Johnson in 1991 into a life he realized he needed to change.

As he came into fatherhood, he thought to himself, “I imagine if I had all the influence on the streets to do the wrong things, imagine how much influence I could have doing the right things.”

One of these “right things” was starting Retrospection in December 2015, a non-profit educational program for inner city youth who are at risk of becoming part of the criminal justice system. Located in Harlem, this program he said has helped over 400 at-risk youth with academics and advice on how to succeed.

Helping youth is his passion, but he felt he could do more to help his community. Following the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, Marcus decided to get into community advocacy.  He called current community leaders “provocateurs,” who encouraged followers to chant “No Justice, No Peace,” which was followed by the same outcome: injustice. “Coming from a community that’s conditioned to oppression. I wanted to see some form of change,” he said.

Marcus sees the first step for change in pushing the state assembly to tackle equal education for children of color. If elected, he said he wants to push forward a Cowards Bill, which would treat crimes against children, women, and the elderly as hate crimes.

Long-time friend, Tyquan Evans feels the community needs someone like Marcus in office who can relate to the community, “He’s been where those people have been, he’s came a long way.”

Leave a Reply