Jumaane Williams On Running For Lieutenant Governor And Being a Powerful Activist

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Photo: NY City Council

FLATBUSH – Jumaane Williams, representing the 45th City Council district, is quite hopeful that he’ll become the next lieutenant governor of New York. Williams officially announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor in the last week of February, confirming all speculations.

Williams was an organizer before he was a council member. And then he became a council member. Soon after, he realized that the issues he cared about affecting his district, needed a citywide response. And those very issues affecting the city needed a statewide response. And that is why he is running for lieutenant governor.

“I haven’t been this excited for a race since I ran for City Council the first time,” he told BKLYNER last week. “This is an extremely viable race. We do have to raise a decent amount of money, and I think we will, and I really think we’re going to be victorious on primary day.”

Williams has held his council seat for nine years, beating the incumbent Kendall Stewart in 2009. He is now looking to defeat the incumbent Kathy Hochul. Candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run on separate tickets in the primary.

Williams would much rather use the term “elected official” instead of “politician” to describe himself. He says one of the biggest criticisms (though he doesn’t hear it as much anymore) was that he was an activist elected official. To that, he said, “Thank you very much.”

“I really took pride in that. I very much, when I started, wanted to reframe how people view elected officials,” he said. “I wanted to use my full potential, and that included continuing my activism while adding my legislative and budgetary duties to it. I’m proud to have, for the most part, been able to do that.”

Many people don’t know what a lieutenant governor is. Should we care?

“I have a different view of what this office can be,” he said. “In the past, more often than not, it’s been viewed basically as a ceremonial position, that is someone that parrots what the governor says. I believe it can be used very powerfully as a voice of the people. Most folks have been the governor’s lieutenant governor, I want to be the people’s lieutenant governor.”

As excited as he was talking about running, he acknowledged his years as a council member, a position that he thought of as a massive progression for the community organizing work he was already doing. He originally ran for council member because he wanted to be a part of the transformation in a way that helped bring equity and justice to marginalized people. Though he believes he hasn’t accomplished everything he set his mind to, he’s still very proud of the work he’s been involved in.

Though he believes he has shepherded a whole new way of looking at gun violence (his debate on guns with Tucker Carlson has over 2,000 views on YouTube), there’s no ignoring the acts that occur daily.

On March 20, just six days after the nationwide student walkout, a student brought a loaded gun inside Midwood High School. It is the same high school Williams attended the walkout.

“It was sad to hear about it,” Williams said. “You have to look at it in two different ways. One is supply; that’s the supply of guns coming into your communities. The other is demand; what is causing people to turn to guns?”

“I believe locally, we’ve done a very good job of starting to address some of the demands. If you’re a victim of gun violence or any other crime, statistics and data don’t mean anything. But we have seen a change in the City, and gun violence is dramatically down in the last few years.”

Williams has often criticized Cuomo on various occasions, such as saying the governor doesn’t have any solutions for fixing the MTA. “If he knows how to fix the system, why has he continued to allow it to fall into disrepair?” he wrote in January. But he believes that he’d be able to work with Cuomo if he were to beat Cynthia Nixon in the fall.

“If he happens to be the governor, I’m not oppositional for opposition’s sake,” Williams said. “I want to work with whomever the governor is on issues I care about in a real way. I view my role as really being someone that advocates for the people and raises their voices when they’re not being heard in a very real way.”

And if Nixon were to be the next governor, Williams would have no problem working with her either. In fact, he’s excited that there’s a serious contender for the gubernatorial position. “My intention is to work with the governor where the issues I care about are really being pushed.”

We asked him if he would do something about the MTA. To that, he let out a “Ha,” and said “Hashtag Cuomo’s MTA.”

“It’s a state agency and it’s just amusing that the governor comes in, takes pictures with the Q train extension, parades around, and then says it’s not his problem,” he said. “I want to push my voice in making sure there’s a real investment in the MTA. Transportation, I felt was a huge issue in NYC, but across the state, people are yearning for investment in public transportation and infrastructure. And again they’re blaming the gubernatorial mansion the lack of either.”

Williams has been very vocal about the lack of diversity in those who hold elected office in NYS. He had run for NY City Council Speaker but lost to Corey Johnson (he blames internal politics). He then criticized the mayor and city leaders, asking “Why did you believe out of that diverse background field of candidates that none of them were qualified?”

“Identity politics is important because it’s important that folks see themselves in their leadership. So if you go from the State down to NYC where I’m from, and you look at the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the state comptroller, the leader of the state senate, the mayor, the city comptroller, the speaker, that’s a lot of power concentrated in a way that folks cannot see themselves in.”

But he reiterated the idea that though diversity is very important, so is qualification.

“You shouldn’t support someone just because of their identity, you should be supporting somebody because they’re doing what you believe is the right thing, and their identity is a plus,” he said. “I’m asking for people to support me because of the work I’ve done, the consistency in how I’ve done it, and the effectiveness I had while doing it, and on top of that, I bring much-needed diversity in the hold of power across the state.”

Williams is also a huge advocate of affordable housing and tenant’s rights. Williams, very passionately, advocated for Ms. Joy Noel, an octogenarian who was wrongfully evicted out of her apartment and later died.

“The rent laws are up in NYC around the suburbs next year. I’m going to continue to fight for that. And we need investment to preserve the affordable units we have. And I want to use the voice in the office to push for that.”

Just a week ago, the Tenants PAC endorsed Williams. This adds to the many endorsements he has received from people including Councilman Brad Lander, Councilman Antonio Reynoso, People For Bernie Sanders, and the New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN).

“The endorsement of the Tenants PAC is a very big honor for me,” he said. “This is an area, where across the state, the governor has completely failed and fully capitulated to high donors, developers, and property owners. The money he receives is directly affected by the weak rent laws, which he continues to support in NYC.”

A few months back, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested four people outside Brooklyn Criminal Court. Then, Ravi Ragbir, a prominent immigrant rights activist, was detained by ICE. Williams, along with many others, participated in a massive protest outside the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building where Ragbir was being held. Williams was then arrested. He did not take an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (plea deal).

“I’ve consistently told people, we are now in an era of orange madness; the orange man in the White House,” he said. “We have to move further, push harder out of our comfort zone, and if we are not uncomfortable, then we’re not doing enough.”

This was not the first time he was arrested. Just last year, he was arrested at a protest outside Trump Tower, Crain’s NY reported. In 2011, he was seen being taken away by cops at the West Indian Day Parade. Normally, he said, he’d take a plea deal. But this time, he felt different.

“I felt I can’t ask people to get out of their comfort zone if I’m not,” he said. “I want to make sure that not just Ravi, but so many of the other immigrants who don’t have attention on their cases, I want to make sure their voices continue to get lifted up.”

He feels very strongly about immigrants. Though he’s a Brooklynite by birth, his parents came from the Carribean island of Grenada. At one point in his life, his brother was undocumented and Williams did not even know.

“It’s something that means a lot to me and the majority of New Yorkers,” he said. “I want to use my voice to push where we’re inadequate, strengthen those inadequacies, and be the voice of all immigrants documented and undocumented.”

Other issues he stands for and will continue to stand for, are homelessness, getting access to decent paying jobs, quality education, police & gun violence, and climate change. He also believes marijuana should be legalized.

“It doesn’t make it any sense that you can grab a beer but you can’t smoke marijuana. I do think they should have regulations just like they do with alcohol,” he said. “We do see a disparity at how it’s enforced. People smoke it at the same rate, yet people who are arrested for it are primarily black and Latinos’s.”

Though Williams is positive he will win, not everyone is as confident. According to Douglas Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College, Williams’ chances of winning are, “not good.”

“You need money, organization, [and] message to win elections. Williams, it seems, has none of these,” he told BKLYNER. He doesn’t believe Williams will be able to accomplish all three before elections. Muzzio also mentioned that this is not the first time a council member ran for a state position. In 1998, Peter Vallone, the NYC Council Speaker, won the Democratic gubernatorial primary but lost the general election to George Pataki.

However, Muzzio does believe there’s nothing wrong with running. “Running is essentially cost-less,” he said. “[It] would boost name recognition for some future race.”

If someone else were to one day take Williams council member position, Williams has a bit of advice.

“My advice is to not try to do what I did. To aim even higher than I aimed,” he said. “The two things that surprised me the most is how difficult it is to do the right thing and how cheaply people sell out not to do it.”

Williams, known for being a fiercely vocal, progressive activist, promises to continue to heavily advocate for everything he stands for if he is the next lieutenant governor. But if he is not elected, he’ll continue fighting as a council member.

“I know whatever it is,” he said, “I’m always going to be a voice for these issues, strongly, consistently, passionately, and sincerely.”

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve actually listened to what Williams has to say. So, telling me he’s an effective legislator isn’t going to do much good, unless you’re trying to frighten me.

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