“Yes, I’m still definitely running for governor,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, “I think folk are just realizing there is an election in three months, there’s not been much talk on the streets.”
Williams is popping up at every New York City presser, rally, or community meeting he can muster the strength for. He’s got a lot on.
With Amani, his premature newborn making all her markers and developing nicely, India Lois Sneed, his wife who had her last dose of chemo-radiotherapy last week, and a daughter by marriage being a grand Brooklyn teen.
There’s lots of things going on in Albany. Last week’s arrest on federal financial fraud charges of Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin for example. Current Gov. Kathy Hochul’s hesitation to talk about it. And then there’s former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s teetering around the edges of declaring his intentions about getting in the race or not.
Williams slammed, “His ego would help him enter the race, but I just don’t know. I thought he might contemplate entering the primary, but it is the most dangerous thing for him to enter the general election. But, he might say, ‘I don’t’ care,’ and this is his last kind of middle finger to New York, so we’ll see.”
Recently former Gov. David Paterson told the Amsterdam News that Cuomo is a “disruptor” and a “distraction.”
Yet Cuomo, who resigned last August in the midst of a sex scandal, is making moves and it would appear, observers say, he plans to run again for governor.
“My thought is this is what happens when people enable someone like Gov. Cuomo, either implicitly or explicitly. You had a bunch of people while the governor was in power who either helped him govern the way he governed or pretended like that it wasn’t happening.” People started to get courage, he said, when he began losing power, but ”even then the legislature did not move to impeach, and this is what happens when you don’t exercise the powers that you have to protect New Yorkers. And so now we have to deal with this person who we know whose ego cannot fit in the state, and has been very harmful. He’s in a position to do more damage to us.”
Williams had been a city council member from 2009. He ran for speaker in a crowded race in 2017, then he successfully ran for public advocate in 2018. And lieutenant governor in 2019, and now he is in the 2022 gubernatorial race.
“My main focus will be figuring out how to shake up as much as I can in Albany, so we can deal with this public safety issue, we can deal with this housing issue, and we can deal with the issues that are harming and worrying New Yorkers.”
A strong supporter of the mic-check-mic-check Occupy Wall Street ‘movement’ and the Black Lives Matter collective, Williams has been a steady presence in the city. Not radical or defiant for some, too much so for others. Whatever the status of his popularity, the Grenadian- Brooklynite, one-time Flatbush-plus city council member, and current public advocate wants to be Gotham’s next governor.
While current guv Kathy Hochul is sitting comfortably in terms of beaucoup funds, and declared elected and union leadership citywide support, Williams is standing firm whilst keeping an eye on Cuomo as he makes all the heavy tells that he wants to run for the job he resigned from last August amidst a massive sex scandal.
Certainly Williams is open to talk about his Tourette syndrome, but he has never made it a central part of his conversations or campaign. With his buttons and backpack, he makes his activist persona clear. Vocally or physically present, assaulted, handcuffed or arrested in struggles such as Occupy Wall Street, Trayvon Martin, BLM, or supporting immigrant-rights activist Ravi Ragbir, Williams is known about the city.
He has his critics of course. Some question his positions on political issues like his call for “house party” legislation requiring parties with 40 or more attendees to let the local cop shop know; connections to real estate, or even when he said he was cautiously optimistic about the return of Bill Bratton when he returned as New York’s police commissioner. Williams countered recalling his stances against police brutality. In June 2013 for example, the city council passed his Community Safety Act, which led an inspector general to watch over the NYPD in theory. He stresses that he is an activist in political office.
With last week’s surprise resignation of then-Lt. Gov. Benjamin came in the wake of federal charges of using campaign money for personal expenses, Williams pointed out that Benjamin pled not guilty. When he himself ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, he got 400,000 votes downstate. Did he have any thoughts about maybe switching out of the race and going for a technically vacant position?
“Black and Brown electeds, we get a high level of scrutiny,” he replied. “My main frustration was the governor saying she had no idea, that’s kind of been her mantra. She said the same thing about Andrew Cuomo.” He touted his running-mate Anna Maria Archila as a hit-the-ground-running replacement.
“Anna-Maria would make a great lieutenant governor,” he said of the Colombian-born co-executive director for the Center of Popular Democracy,
“I have a great job now as public advocate, but I am running for governor. I plan to take this all the way.”
Regarding the Benjamin dilemma, Williams said, “The governor can appoint temporarily, but they have an issue…It’s hard to get him off the ballot at this point in time, and the state senate said they are not going to take that up, so the governor is in a bit of a bind here, but you know if she wants to appoint Anna-Maria that’s not a bad way to go.” Saying that since she is running independently, she would be the correct check and balance whilst working with the governor “if something is not working… speak on behalf of the people and the state.”
Meanwhile, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the interim lieutenant governor.
It sure can be messy up there in Albany. Is he sure he wants to go up there?
“It is,” he replied, “that’s why I think it is important to have someone who has not been a part of Albany muscle memory. So, even if you got rid of the head like Gov. Cuomo, if you don’t decide that you are going to shake up the muscle memory—you are going to get what you have always gotten. And former lieutenant governor, now Gov. Kathy Hochul, has been a part of that muscle memory. When I ran in 2018, she literally said that there weren’t any issues that she had with the then governor—and that’s before the scandal rocked. That says to me that either you are not paying attention, or you are making a decision not to say anything so you can better your political career. You need somebody who is going to be different from that running the state if we are going to get where we need to go.”
Williams noted, “We lost tens of thousands of people in New York. The one thing we can do in their honor, is not go back to that. As you can see from the budget, when we asked for a billion to be put in the budget for victims of gun violence prevention/victims services, this governor decided to put a billion dollars in place for a billionaire who owns the Buffalo Bills and hired a firm who hired her husband. This is the dynamic of where priorities are.”
It’s “helpful to us” that folk are starting to wake up to the fact that they’ll be voting in the next three months, as his “campaign is starting to hit a nice stride,” Williams said, so while he’ll be journeying up to the farest regions of upstate, he said that must also “shore up downstate where I’m from: New York City. “I’m very excited about the support we have got in the last few elections. I hope we can get it again and do even better.”
He said in areas like Rochester and Buffalo “where we’re doing some great work and have some good responses.”
Always a political hot potato, “Fundraising is starting to pick up,” he said. It is a sensitive issue, he said, “Cause we don’t take money that other folk take. The people who funded Kathy Hochul’s campaign, funded Cuomo’s campaign. They are the people who benefit from people who are struggling to pay their rent, people who are facing foreclosure, people who benefit from the high rents. Our political support is stronger than I thought it would be right now…we were severely outspent in 2018, and we still came within earshot of winning that election—47%. And we expect to have a good race again.”
The election is on June 28, 2022.
“I’m a Democrat,” said the man running in the Working Families Party line. “But Democrats do a terrible job talking about public safety, speaking about taxes. We do really well addressing those issues. Democrats…I belong to that party, but we’ve been better at telling people who’re not to vote for—giving them a boogie man who not to vote for as opposed to giving them a vision to vote for.
“When we get our vision in front of whomever it is, we say the same thing, and we understand that people want to be in a safe community. They want to be able to afford where they live, afford their health care, and they want their children to do better. And our job is to get the barriers out of the way to do that. That message sells all over.”
Not whining, but pointing out a reality he sees, Williams added, “No matter what I do the goalposts get moved. I was told I had to choose between being an elected and being an activist. I said I don’t. The best elected officials are activists. We have shown that we can move New York City. We have passed a record number of pieces of legislation, policy and funding programs. We were told the message would never work—we got 47% of the vote. We won citywide…The type of politics we want to do worries the status quo, and it should, because the status quo does not work for the people who are listening,” he told this journalist while speaking to this reporter on “Back to Basics” on InceptionFM.com.
Mayor Adams met with Cuomo at least twice recently, does his support worry you, and if you don’t do you need it? “I’ve known Eric for years…we’ve worked on a lot of issues including gun violence.” There are differences, but he said he is focusing on finding spaces where there is agreement because the city needs it “in trying to combat this gun violence so it doesn’t get to where we were before.”
But, he said, “We also don’t want to make the mistakes of the past like the over policing, and the over incarceration. That did not solve the problem, and actually caused additional problems. Anyone running for governor would love the mayor’s endorsement, but I don’t know what he is going to do. I think our campaign is based on what we usually have, which is not a lot of institutional support, we don’t usually have a whole lot of money, but we do get the voters out, so so we are going to tailor our message to New Yorkers right now who are suffering as opposed to billionaires who have made $88 billion more during the pandemic. The voters who are struggling right now to pay their rent, to pay their mortgage right now, to pay the health bills, to pay for their medicine, trying to figure out how to get the children to school, and educate them, dealing with fears of getting on the subway, and gun violence.”
With regards to last week’s NYC shooting on the subway, Williams said, “I can’t imagine the people who’ve been shot, also the people who are in that subway…there’s trauma going on, people don’t understand how much that trauma continues to spread. People are concerned, and they should be. This is the third surge we will have of police this year. The first surge under the last administration—we said you know, just adding police—while we need our law enforcement partners, if you don’t do anything else, it’s not going to solve the problem. We said that the second time, we’re saying that the third time.
“We have new units on the street, and people are still being shot. There is such a broader response that is needed, and that’s what I’m looking for in our leadership. Congress has to do something to stop these guns coming on our streets. Our police officers are getting record numbers or guns off the street right now, the arrests they’re making—we’ve got to figure out why it’s not going through the court system.
“We have a 10-point plan for public safety, on how to address this gun violence in a real way, the same way we helped get 2018 and 2019 the safest we’ve ever been. If you’re a victim of crime—data means nothing, but there is a way to get to this.”
The Amsterdam News reached out to both Hochul and Cuomo, but were unable to secure interviews with either by press time.