Councilman Jumaane Williams has been a critical advocate who does not shy away from clear words, challenging topics - or the race for City Council speaker
City Council Member Jumaane Williams of the 45th District is certainly not shy. In fact, before he was involved in city politics, he aspired to become an actor. Yet, his commitment to social justice and social change encouraged him to enter the political stage. Since then, he has been a vocal and critical advocate for his constituents who does not shy away from challenging topics such as public safety and policing, gun violence and immigration.
"My first love is acting and I always had the intention of doing drama," says Councilmember Jumaane Williams. "But social justice issues have always been a big part of my life and how I think so it makes sense that I'm here now." [perfectpullquote align="full" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]"My first love is acting and I always had the intention of doing drama." He adds, "But social justice issues have always been a big part of my life and how I think so it makes sense that I'm here now."[/perfectpullquote]
After beating incumbent Kendall Stewart in 2009, Williams' trajectory has been onward and upwards. In his work he has focused on community policing, housing and dollar vans. Yet, his biggest achievement may be his role in changing gun violence. He has sponsored the Community Safety Act, which created the Office of Inspector General for the New York Police Department, the Fair Chance Act and is co-chairing the taskforce, which created New York's Crisis Management System and Cure Violence Groups to combat gun violence.
"We have murders down and shootings down," says Williams. "Stop-and-frisks are down 93% and crime has fallen 4.1%. Gun arrests have increased and shootings are at an all-time low."
Williams stresses how important local politics are. However, he can't ignore the dichotomy of local politics and politics at a federal or state level.
"In general, I still want to focus on all of the issues I've been working on because they're not finished," explains Williams. "But we are in a different space than we were four years ago; Trump has really changed the climate we all live in."
Williams is sure that the political climate also affected the recent city elections. His disappointment regarding voter turnout in the wake of the Trump presidency is palpable, and so is his frustration about Governor Cuomo's response to the low turnout in New York.
"I was appalled at our governor's comment about the low turnout instead of trying to inspire people and think of ways to increase voter turnout," states Williams. "That's not what we need right now. We need to encourage and provide real action."
One way to provide encouragement is to implement policies that make voting more accessible for all, he says. Yet, despite the many issues that plague New York City, he remains hopeful for the city's future - as long as the community comes together. And he calls on the community he serves: Williams urges individuals with more privilege to speak up, especially when it comes to immigration.
"If you have your documents; if you are a citizen; if you have these privileges, you need to step up because some people cannot," he says.
Williams applauds the Latino community for their work in advocating for immigration rights. He is more critical of the Caribbean community who have ignored those issues until recently; he indicates that many Caribbean immigrants believe that they are 'going back home,' and they think that they do not need to get involved.
"More than half [of Caribbean community] are here for many years. I hope that the activism that's been found now can be maintained." He adds, "Ultimately if you are in a comfort zone, that means you haven't done enough." [perfectpullquote align="full" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]"If you are in a comfort zone, that means you haven't done enough."[/perfectpullquote]
And Williams wants to do more. Reports have circulated that he may become a potential 2018 Democratic challenger to Governor Cuomo. But he emphasizes that perhaps local elections are even more important than the presidential elections.
"My name was humbly thrown out there as governor that was a surprise. But, you know, you can never say no to anything," Williams laughs. "I'm 100% focused on the speaker position right now. I really hope I am chosen [as speaker] to help shepherd this institution."