In tense political contest, police reform advocate wins NYC public advocate race

A city councilman who was a vocal opponent of the NYPD's "stop-and-frisk" policy will now become the occupant of the city's office that serves as a liaison to its citizens

Jumaane Williams
Jumaane Williams won the special election for NYC Publica Advocate on Feb. 26. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow, File)

Jumaane Williams, who has spent much of his time on the New York City council pushing for police reform, won the city’s race for public advocate in a special election Tuesday.

With more than 90 percent of the votes counted late Tuesday, Williams was ahead with 33 percent of the vote while his chief competitor, Republican City Councilman Eric Ulrich, had 19 percent, according to the New York Daily News.

The news was still so new on Wednesday afternoon that Williams still listed himself as a candidate on Twitter and posted a note indicating that he was still trying to process it all.

Williams told supporters at a café in Brooklyn that he was eager to get to work.

“The public advocate, the people’s advocate, is a role that I am incredibly excited to ill and one that is crucial to our city,” the Daily News quoted Williams as saying. “I know there are some who have sought to get rid of it, and now I’m sure that there are probably people who want it gone even more.”

In winning the election, Williams also marked a victory over former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who’d been active in pushing for reform at Riker’s Island, the New York City correctional facility; and in bringing down the statue in Central Park of J. Marion Sims, a gynecologist who experimented on slave women.

Williams, who has overcome challenges with Tourette’s Syndrome to advance in politics, has been an outspoken demonstrator who has at times been arrested for civil disobedience. His campaign was tripped up by revelations that he’d been arrested in 2009 after a domestic abuse with a girlfriend, but the case was ultimately dropped and Williams labeled the event as a “verbal disagreement.”

He was unsuccessful running mate with actress and activist Cynthia Nixon when she ran last year for governor of New York. But when former public advocate LetitiaTish” James became state attorney general, he ran for the office to replace her in the special election.

Williams was highly critical of the NYPD’s former “stop-and-frisk” policy that gave police wide latitude in stopping and questioning people. He and others argued the policy targeted young Black men more than any other group.

Williams is a first-generation Brooklyn resident of Grenadian heritage, according to his official City Council bio. He earned a bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College and has served on the council since 2009.