Jeffrey Elder said he has long planned to run for mayor of Niagara Falls.
In 1998, he shared his dream with President Bill Clinton aboard Air Force One, where Elder served for 12 years.
"He said, 'You know what, Jeff? I like that. I'd like to help you out with that,' " Elder recalled Wednesday. "And I said, 'Mr. President, I'm serious.' And he grabbed me by the hand and looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Jeff, I'm serious.' "
Does that mean Clinton will come to Niagara Falls to campaign for him?
"We don't know who all is going to campaign for us yet. We're reaching out to Democrats; we're reaching out to Republicans; we're reaching out to everybody. We'll just leave it at that for right now," Elder said.
Elder, 57, formally announced his candidacy at a news conference Wednesday in Hyde Park. His presence in the race has been known since he submitted nominating petitions totaling 2,678 signatures to the Niagara County Board of Elections in late May.
"It's definitely a Democratic city, but we're looking to get the voters off of their normal voting track," Elder said in a phone interview. "I'm out knocking on doors every day, and we're letting people know who I am as a candidate, who I am as a person."
Elder joined the Air Force after graduating from the former LaSalle Senior High School in 1980, and he served 26 years, retiring with the rank of master sergeant.
He was part of the Air Force One crew during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
Elder, who returned to the city in the past year, is running under the banner of the self-created Dynamic Future Party.
He acknowledged that he hasn't worked out his complete platform yet.
"That's part of the stuff that we're continuing to work on," he said. "We're still talking to some of the people and getting the opinion of the citizens of Niagara Falls."
Elder is the only African American in the four-candidate mayoral contest, but he said he's not running on that basis.
"I don't want people to vote for me because I'm African American or not vote for me because I'm African American," Elder said. "When you look at me, I want you to look at the content of my character, not the color of my skin."
Robert M. Restaino, former city judge and current president of the Niagara Falls Board of Education, won the Democratic mayoral primary and has three minor lines for the general election.
Glenn A. Choolokian, a former city councilman, is the Republican nominee.
Seth A. Piccirillo, city community development director, lost the Democratic primary but won the Working Families Party primary. He has yet to announce if he will campaign actively.