Sam Sloan Is Running for Congress … and President

The far wall of Sam Sloan’s apartment in Morris Heights is stacked nearly floor to ceiling with books, some of which were published by him. While showing off his collection one recent Wednesday, Mr. Sloan quickly pulled aside a novel to reveal a secret: a second hidden layer of books behind the first. He shot a sly smile; the metaphor was left unspoken.

Mr. Sloan is making an improbable bid for New York’s 13th Congressional District seat, but appears to be more than a little ambivalent about whether he wants anyone to know that he’s actually running.

  • Name: Samuel H. Sloan
  • Age: 71
  • Home Neighborhood: Morris Heights
  • Party Affiliation: Democrat
  • Current Office/Job: Publisher and chess player

“I try to fly under the radar and not announce that I’m a candidate, and not announce that I’m running, and slip by so that they won’t realize that I’m there,” Mr. Sloan said matter-of-factly.

For the congressional race, Mr. Sloan entered the field with a very clear strategy: Wait out the competition and see what happens. Hey, you never know.

“My strategy is that they all go after each other and try to knock each other out,” Mr. Sloan said.

He is the Don Quixote of Harlem politics, perhaps the most unlikely candidate in a crowd of Democrats hoping to succeed Representative Charles B. Rangel. Scruffy-haired with a raspy voice and sunken eyes, Mr. Sloan is an elite-level chess player with seemingly endless political ambitions that — despite various attempts — have never been realized.

He has previously run for Congress and for governor. And even as he embarks on his campaign to replace Mr. Rangel, he is also a candidate for President of the United States. His attempts at office have met with little success, but that has not stopped him from returning again and again to the fray.

After so many defeats, what keeps him coming back? He traced his motivation to a squabble over a disputed family trust involving acquaintances whom Mr. Sloan said held “political power.”

“So if I actually win this election and get elected to Congress or President, then I will have the political power,” he said, nodding his head decisively.

His platform for the congressional race has two major planks — redevelopment in the Bronx and accelerating the withdrawal of American troops from the Middle East. He seems unperturbed that he is one of two white candidates competing for a seat in a district that is increasingly black and Hispanic. He points out that he has been told his “Spanish is better than Bloomberg’s,” and a quick search of Mr. Sloan on the internet reveals that he is the last non-lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court, in 1978.

If nothing else, his invisibility-cloak campaign seems to be working. An interview with seven passers-by in Bedford Park, a Bronx neighborhood in the 13th District, yielded the same response: No one had heard of Mr. Sloan or his congressional bid.

Ismael Berios, 52, who has lived in the neighborhood for a decade, nevertheless offered some campaign advice. “Maybe if he had posters up,” he said with a shrug.

But even Mr. Sloan acknowledges that little might be able to help him win the June 28 primary.

“What chance does a poor boy like me from deep in Rebel Territory, most famous for having my name on toilet bowels, have against such a star-studded field?” Mr. Sloan wrote in a “Chess and PoliticsGoogle Group on May 4.

Mr. Sloan and the other candidates recently took part in a lottery to determine the order in which their names will appear on the ballot.

In a delicious bit of irony given his hide-and-seek approach to the congressional race, Mr. Sloan won. So, on June 28, there will be at least one place where the hidden candidate will not be able to hide: at the top of the ballot.