Philadelphia residents could elect a female sheriff for the first time in city history, thanks to two Democratic women vying for the job.
Retired police officer Rochelle Bilal and former deputy sheriff detective Malika Rahman are taking on embattled Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams, who was accused by at least three women of sexual harassment.
Also running for sheriff is the Rev. Larry King Sr., who describes himself as a "preacher, pastor and public servant." The four Democrats face off May 21 in the Democratic primary for the office charged with protecting Philadelphia courts, ferrying incarcerated to courts and jail and overseeing property forclosures. There is no Republican challenger.
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A former state representative, Williams’ tenure as sheriff has been mired with controversy almost from the beginning. Rumors of sexual misconduct began to surface in 2013, just one year after he took office.
In January 2019, the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office settled with one of the victims for $127,500. Williams was not listed as a defendant in the complaint and has maintained his innocence. A lawyer for Williams said in a statement that the pay-out did "not mean the allegations are true."
But in 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney said Williams should resign from office. Instead, he’s running for a third term and the lawsuit could play a part in the upcoming May 21 election with two women running against Williams.
"That's what elections are for - to allow voters to judge not just the accomplishments and the track record and the vision of the candidate, but that person's character," David Thornburgh, CEO and president of Philadelphia's Committee of 70, said.
Bilal, 27-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, was the first woman appointed Director of Public Safety in the Colwyn borough of Delaware County, where she managed the police department and the volunteer fire department.
She is also secretary of the Philadelphia NAACP chapter and president of the Guardian Civic League, a local offshoot of the National Black Police Association.
According to her campaign website, Bilal "believes that elected officials are responsible to each and every citizen and she is deliberate in making sure that everyone has a voice at the table."
Rahman, meanwhile, started her career in law enforcement 10 years ago as a correctional officer in the Philadelphia Prison system. During an interview with NBC10, Rahman said that one of her biggest priorities is creating transparency and accountability within the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office.
"Before you can go outside and sweep the front porch, you have to make sure the inside is clean," she said.
Her inspiration to run for sheriff was not necessarily driven by the wave of women who ran for office last year, but "it did help," she said.
“It was more of a need and necessity for the people,” Rahman said. “As women, [Bilal and I] are both concerned for the need for change- providing adequate services the public can feel comfortable with and trust in.”
Bilal echoed a similar intention during her interview with NBC10.
"I want to be the change agent," she said. "I want to see [the sheriff’s office] represent the people of this city."
One way of doing that, Bilal said, would be to help keep residents in their homes rather than foreclosing on houses for sheriff’s sale. Last year in Philadelphia, more than 18,000 people lost their homes.
Like Bilal and Rahman, King is running on a platform of “restoring trust” and “rebuilding confidence.” He is a retired Army veteran and former Philadelphia prisons correctional officer turned internal affairs investigator.
CORRECTION (March 13, 2019, 2:30 p.m.): This story has been updated to reflect that Bilal or Rahman would be the first woman elected sheriff in Philadelphia. Barbara Deeley served as acting sheriff for a year in 2011.