Former City Council Member Enoch Williams died late last month at his Florida home. He was 84 years old.
A Democrat, Williams rose to represent minority Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Flatbush and Bedford-Stuyvesant, in 1978. He held his council seat until he retired in 1997. During his tenure as a City Council representative, Williams championed important issues in the African-American community and led the successful charge against former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to privatize city hospitals in the 1990s.
A member of the council’s Health Committee during his final years in office, Williams also advocated for a 1994 law prohibiting smoking at many outdoor locations, a precursor to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s smoking bans in 2003 and 2011.
Despite his service to the New York City area, Williams would also come under fire for his views on the LBGT community in the 1980s, around the time AIDS was first discovered. A New York Post article cited Williams as saying the city’s pro-homosexual stance was responsible for the virus’s rampant spread. For this reason, he opposed a large number of gay rights bills introduced in the council.
Facing a firestorm from gay rights activists, Williams defended himself by saying he was concerned that gay groups were receiving more financial resources than minority communities crippled by AIDS. He eventually apologized, saying, “Ignorance causes AIDS.”
During his political career, Williams was also the New York Guard’s major general from 1990 to 1993, overseeing distribution of military jobs in the state. He made history as the first African-American to hold this position. Throughout his military service, Williams was commended with the Legion of Merit, Army Commendation Medal and the bronze and silver Selective Service Meritorious service medals.
In the later stages of his life, Williams served as a delegate at the 2008 Democratic National Convention and was invited to President Barack Obama’s victory speech.
Williams is survived by two sons, one daughter, a stepson and a stepdaughter, 17 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.