In 1905, Vaudeville Musician Thomas S. Allen wrote the famous song “Low Bridge” about the early years of the Erie Canal, which opened in 1825. As director of the New York State Canal Corporation, Brian Stratton ’79 probably relates to the song’s chorus: “Every inch of the way I know, from Albany to Buffalo.”
Stratton oversees 524 miles of the state’s canal system, including the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Champlain and Oswego canals. More than 200 towns and communities reside along the Erie Canal, now entering 191 seasons of operation, and it is Stratton’s job to travel the state and work with local officials to identify economic opportunities along the canal.
“Sometimes I like to go along the lock, greet boaters and thank them for using the canal system,” Stratton said.
Stratton, who is also a member of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet of advisors, was appointed to his role in early 2011 after serving as the mayor of Schenectady, N.Y.
Stratton was narrowly elected mayor in 2003, and won a landslide re-election in 2007. During his tenure, Stratton and his team turned around a $10 million deficit and brought in more than $300 million in new private development. Stratton also had a unique one-on-one interaction with President Obama following the 2011 U.S. Conference of Mayors held in Washington, D.C.
“I never thought that, as mayor of a smaller city like Schenectady, I would walk across the South Lawn of the White House to board Marine One with the President of the United States,” Stratton said. “What a great opportunity that was for my city, to rise above the rest.” Stratton flew to Schenectady aboard Marine One and Air Force One during the president’s visit to the Capital Region.
Although he grew up outside of Washington, D.C., Stratton spent part of his childhood in Upstate New York with his father, Samuel Stratton, a longtime New York U.S. Representative and former mayor of Schenectady.
His long, winding career can be traced all the way back to 1977 when Stratton transferred from Montgomery College to SUNY Oswego to earn a bachelor’s degree in communication studies.
“One of the greatest classes I took at Oswego was introduction to constitutional law with [Emeritus Professor] Bruce Altschuler,” Stratton said. “I remember that I just came alive in that class. It was a great exposure to civil rights, law and government.
“I was only at Oswego for two years, but it will always have a wonderful, warm spot in my heart.”
—Tyler Edic ’13