Jumaane Williams (photo: @JumaaneWilliams)
Jumaane Williams is running alone in the left lane of the Democratic primary for governor, with voting set to conclude on Tuesday, June 28.
Williams, the New York City public advocate, is facing Governor Kathy Hochul, who is seeking her first elected term as the state’s chief executive, and Rep. Tom Suozzi of Long Island.
A former City Council member from Brooklyn, Williams has long called himself an “activist elected official’ and has had a significant focus on the issues of housing, police reform, and public safety. Those issues, along with others like jobs, remain at the top of his gubernatorial campaign agenda, in which he has a robust housing plan, pledges to pass several high-profile but stalled progressive legislative priorities, and calls for raising taxes on the wealthy to help pay for his progressive agenda with more investments in health care, climate action, community development, and affordable housing.
Williams argues his work as public advocate and prior, and his status as the “only candidate by and for the working people of New York” in the gubernatorial primary make him uniquely qualified to lead the state.
As public advocate since early 2019, Williams has passed more legislation than anyone else who has held the position.
“I have shown up time and time again…I will show up again once more as governor,” Williams said in a televised Democratic primary debate on June 2. “While we want to normalize our lives, we don't want to go back to where we were.”
Williams says his health struggles and experience as a first generation New Yorker and public school graduate have helped him to better understand the communities he serves. Williams was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and ADHD as a teenager, and said he hopes his visibility through his work in public service inspires young people.
“My tourettes has never defined me, but it has represented a truth about my life and my work,” he said in a campaign ad. “I’m always moving.”
As part of his activism, Williams is known for being in the streets protesting, including getting arrested when advocating for or against certain policies. “An activist elected official must stand up to power, and take to the streets when needed,” Williams said in a campaign ad.
Williams challenged Hochul for Lieutenant Governor in 2018, putting forth a strong showing but losing by seven percentage points while spending far less money. He had planned to challenge former Governor Andrew Cuomo in this year’s election, but Cuomo resigned in August of last year and was replaced by Hochul.
“We did the right thing to get rid of Governor Cuomo but the Hochul administration is moving us in a worse direction,” Williams said at a May campaign rally. “New Yorkers feel it.”
This year, Williams again has endorsements from many progressive elected officials and groups, including New York City Comptroller Brad Lander and Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, the Working Families Party, Make the Road New York Action, and the Sunrise Movement NYC, among others. He is running with lieutenant governor candidate Ana Maria Archila, a long time advocate and activist who has founded and run two nonprofits focused on immigrant rights and economic equality. Notably, several influential progressives, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have endorsed Archila but not Williams.
Williams regularly highlights the three pillars of his current campaign: public safety, housing, and the economy, including during two debates against Hochul and Suozzi, and one debate with Suozzi that Hochul declined to attend, as well as interviews about his campaign.
That campaign has struggled to raise money to come anywhere close to keeping up with Hochul’s massive war chest and polls show the current governor in strong position to win the nomination as she seeks her first full term in the position. But Williams says he regularly outperforms polling and his message is being well-received around the state.
Williams’ vision for New York includes a ten-point public safety plan to invest in violence prevention and victim services, create trauma response teams, and strengthen the state’s mental health programs.
“Public safety is a huge issue for me…The way we truly get to public safety is dealing with some of the structural issues that existed for quite some time,” Williams said in a November 2021 interview with Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max, just ahead of announcing his run for governor. “If you spend more money, resources and attention on dealing with the thing after it happens, you have already missed an important point, and you probably have failed.”
Having served as Co-Chair of the City Council’s Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, Williams plans to improve housing and job infrastructure in areas with high gun violence and combat the proliferation of guns by demanding financial accountability for gun manufacturers and lobbyists.
“Every illegal gun is legal at some point,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “You combine that with access low to mental health, increase in homelessness, increase in food insecurity and a whole bunch of other issues…We have been trying to attack those things all at once. Trying to get more than just police services.”
Williams called for the state to put $1 billion of its $220 billion budget toward community anti-violence measures, and throughout the final months of the campaign has criticized Hochul for coming up far short of that number. While he does not use the “defund the police” slogan and has said it is the wrong messaging (he prefers a more positive vision but has said it’s wrong for elected officials to try to tell activists what slogans to use), he does want to move resources away from policing and incarceration and into preventative measures. That includes ensuring housing, jobs, and health care for everyone, as well as more investment in the violence interrupter programs he has supported for many years, beginning in Brooklyn.
Williams would also invest in care for drug users by ending the criminalization of low level drug offenses and providing harm reduction services and medication-assisted treatment; he supports a statewide expansion of New York City’s first two safe injection sites.
As governor, Williams says he would defend bail reforms (he has opposed the rollbacks to 2019 bail reforms of the past two years) and institute parole reforms to allow more people to be released from prison after serving long sentences. He promises to fight against mass incarceration by emphasizing rehabilitation and well-being in correctional facilities and expanding alternative detention programs that aim to deliver more targeted services to address people’s specific needs.
He would reform New York’s police department, mobilizing social workers and other trained professionals to respond instead of the police in certain circumstances, including situations involving homelessness and mental health.
“We make sure all the tools are there so that we can pull back the tool of law enforcement and still be able to put the type of safety in place that we know we can,” he said in the November Max Politics interview.
Along with police reform and public safety, Williams’ other main focus of his professional career has been housing. He was executive director of New York State Tenants & Neighbors before being elected to the City Council and then he chaired the Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee. He is now offering a “Housing for All” plan as he runs for governor.
Williams pledges to create 1 million carbon-neutral affordable housing units along with good paying jobs that would come from the construction.
By reimagining the way the Empire State Development and New York State Urban Development Corporation operate, Williams would ensure that they partner with non-profits instead of large real estate developers, securing affordable housing for the long-term by better leveraging state subsidies, he says. Williams’ “housing for the social good” model demands that public land be used for public benefit, and prevents its sale to private for-profit corporations.
More affordable housing would be made available across the state, Williams promises, in urban, suburban, and rural communities, and provided to New Yorkers from various income levels, with tenants paying according to their ability to do so, and those with more means helping to subsidize those with fewer.
Williams would offer foreclosure relief and prioritize expanding tenants’ rights by empowering them to form unions and providing the universal right to counsel for tenants facing eviction. He aims to implement statewide revolving loan funds for first-time home-buyers and expand cooperative housing models.
Williams also promises property tax reform, cutting property taxes for the working and middle class and increasing them on the wealthy.
Jobs and The Economy
Williams is campaigning on creating a “working people’s economy” by implementing a more progressive income tax, including raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
If elected, Williams would move to protect workers’ right to organize, increase the minimum wage, and fund “excluded workers,” mostly undocumented New Yorkers ineligible for federal unemployment relief and other benefits. He would support small businesses by offering tax breaks, rebates, and other incentives, he says.
Williams would pursue better pay for home care workers, and close the “minimum wage loophole” for tipped workers. He would also expand the earned income tax credit and create a public banking system.
Williams has long been a proponent of the New York Health Act, which would institute single-payer health care in the state, effectively moving away from the private insurance-based model and to a government-run system.
Williams’ “healthcare for all” plan includes universal health care for all New Yorkers, for building and funding public hospitals, and improving the state’s elderly services and mental health infrastructure. Williams’ healthcare plan would include immigrant New Yorkers who are denied coverage based on their immigration status and invest in research and initiatives to support Black maternal health.
Williams has come under fire for inconsistent views on abortion. He has said in the past that while he would not personally want a partner to choose abortion, he still supports women’s right to choose, and his comments on the subject have evolved over the past decade.
“You have to check off a box of pro-choice and you have to check off a box of pro-life and I don’t know that I’m comfortable in any of those boxes. I am personally not in favor of abortion,” he told Politico in 2013.
Since then, Williams has put forth increasingly stronger pro-choice stances, including reproductive rights in his healthcare plan and supporting the effort to make abortion a consitutional right in New York State. He has said in this campaign that in the past he mistakenly put his own view at the forefront of his public position even as he always supported pro-choice laws and that he realized he needed to remove himself from the equation.
“We cannot wait, cannot hesitate, before fighting to preserve this right, New York will continue to fight to be a safe haven for women and pregnant people,” Williams wrote on Instagram in a May 2 post responding to a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which came to pass this past week.
Williams’ skeletal education plan would make college more accessible by offering free tuition at CUNY and SUNY colleges and pledges to ensure full funding of public schools at all levels. He would also expand summer youth job programs and invest in counseling and support to end the school to prison pipeline.
Williams pledges to implement a universal childcare system and transform New York’s schools into environmentally friendly havens.
Climate and the Environment
Williams’ environmental plans go beyond school buildings. As governor, he says he would fully implement the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a 2019 law that requires a major shift in the state toward renewable energy and away from carbon emissions, while also protecting marginalized communities.
To do this, Williams supports the Build Public Renewables Act that has not passed the Legislature but aims to allow more public investment in renewable energy, independent from corporate interests. He says he would invest $10 billion yearly in climate action projects, promoting the creation of good union jobs.
Williams would fight to make the state more inclusive for immigrants and their families, he says, and that is a key focus for his running-mate, Archila, herself an immigrant from Colombia and a founder of immigrant rights group Make the Road New York.
A Williams-Archila administration would ensure that all New Yorkers have health insurance coverage regardless of immigration status, the campaign website says. Local law enforcement and state agencies would be prevented from coordinating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and ICE would be prohibited from contracting with New York state and local jails.
Government and Voting Reform
Williams would institute a wide range of government and election reforms, including investing more in boards of elections so they can better run elections and funding the public financing of elections to remove more of the influence of private donors in elections. He would ban contributions from corporations for state campaigns, prevent elected officials from trading stocks, and prohibit corporate lobbying by former officials. He would create an independent ethics commission and give the attorney general resources to investigate public corruption.
“People have a lot of real reasons not to have faith in government,” Williams told The New York Times. “I do believe electing different types of people who will make decisions that are really based on what’s best for New Yorkers will be a huge difference.”
Lindsay Shachnow, Gotham Gazette