From working as a community organizer to becoming the third highest ranking member of the New York City Council to serving as State Senator and then back on the City Council, Bill Perkins was a tireless, independent fighter for the people—who showed time and again the courage to speak truth to power. 

He was The Nation magazine as one of eight most effective progressive city leaders in the country, was one of the few leaders who stood with the Central Park Five — and against Donald Trump’s call for the death penalty for them — until they were ultimately found innocent, and in 2008 he was the first New York State elected official to support Barack Obama for President. 

A lifelong resident of Harlem, Bill was raised by his mother together with his two brothers and a cousin. While she didn’t have much to give him financially, she fought to get him into good schools and instilled him the importance of a good education. With hard work and the help of the community, Bill graduated from the Collegiate School and then Brown University.

Starting his political career as a community activist and tenant leader, he was elected three times to the City Council and was chosen by his colleagues to serve as Deputy Majority Leader and Chair of the Government Operations Committee. Legendary columnist Jack Newfield described Bill as “a legislator who has no fear and limitless empathy for life’s casualties.”

RELATED: Former State Senator and Harlem City Council member Bill Perkins dies at age 74

Bill Perkins spearheaded the successful fight to protect children from the deadly effects of lead in their homes and his leadership resulted in the enactment of The Childhood Lead Paint Poisoning Prevention Act of 2004 to protect children from the deadly effects of lead in their homes. New York now has the best preventions in the country and according to the Mayor’s “Take Care New York” report has experienced a dramatic decrease in lead poisoning cases. For winning this fight, Juan Gonzales in the Daily News called Bill Perkins “a hero” and wrote, “It took the stamina of a long-distance runner to prevail against the city’s powerful landlord lobby, which has resisted stronger lead paint removal laws for decades.”

Elected to the State Senate in 2006 from a District that includes Harlem, the Upper West Side and Washington Heights and was previously represented by former NYS Secretary of State Basil Paterson, former State Comptroller Carl McCall and former Governor David Paterson, Bill Perkins was the first NYS elected official to support Barack Obama for President. 

When he got to Albany, it quickly became clear to him that Albany didn’t need another go-along, get-along legislator — and it wasn’t what this district needed either. Instead, he has worked to make a difference — to fight for reform, transparency and accountability, to take on the status quo and the special interests and to be a voice for fairness, basic justice and the people of his district.

As Chairman of the Corporations, Authorities & Commissions Committee, he led the fight in the State Senate for the law to reform our public authorities like the MTA, and to take their operations out of the shadows, make sure their finances are scrutinized and that they are serving the people. He fought to pass the Power for Jobs Plan that has created thousands of good paying jobs, worked to extend unemployment benefits and to make health care more accessible and he has fought for tenants and affordable housing. And he led the successful fight for legislation reducing sulfur in heating oil, making it easier for New Yorkers with respiratory conditions to breathe and helping reduce acid rain.

A colon cancer survivor, Bill Perkins knows how important early detection is. He has been successful in setting up early detection programs in city hospitals so that other colon cancer victims will survive and he has helped safeguard the health of children and adults by fighting asthma, infant and maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS and was an original lead sponsor of and fighter for the NY Health Act to make quality health care more accessible to all New Yorkers by passing a single payer plan.

A strong supporter of public education, Bill Perkins has fought to give every single child the same chance to succeed that he was given. He made sure that funding for computer technology, public libraries and the rehabilitation of school playgrounds remain a municipal government priority. Fighting and winning funding to increase The City University of New York (CUNY) scholarships, full-time faculty staffing and college prep courses, Perkins is a leading voice to maintain the public university’s mission of access and excellence.

Called an “anti-rat crusader,” Bill Perkins has fought the plague of rats on our streets. Serving as Chair of Council’s Select Committee on Pest Control, he organized a citywide Rat Summit, authored a comprehensive strategy to solving the City’s rat problem and forced the Mayor to act. Even now, some newspapers still refer to him as the “Rat Man.”

Bill Perkins was an early, vigorous opponent of the War in Iraq. He introduced and passed an anti-war resolution – one of the first in the nation — in the City Council and led the fight to pass a resolution to protect our civil liberties and rights by mandating that the Patriot Act not infringe upon the fundamental rights and liberties of New Yorkers. When peaceful demonstrators rallying during the Republican National Convention were wrongly arrested, held in unsafe conditions and denied basic rights, Bill Perkins was the first to hold hearings and expose the abuses.

And Bill didn’t stop there. He’s stood tall for free speech and equity, opposed racial, ethnic and religious profiling, sponsored landmark Legislation to protect the rights of the gay, lesbian and transgender community and he led the fight for the Living Wage Bill to provide a minimum wage that was also a living wage.

In February 2017, he was again elected to the City Council where he served through 2021 fighting for good schools, quality health care for all and affordable housing, to knock down barriers and create opportunity and to be a loud voice for those that too often have no voice in government.

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