Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams's Bid for Re-Election Hits Snag as Democratic Party Drops Endorsement

The incumbent running for a third term has seen his tenure clouded by revelations of sexual harassment lawsuits and settlements dating back to his time as a state lawmaker.

What to Know

  • Sheriff Jewell Williams is seeking a third term.
  • His second term has been clouded by revelations of sexual harassment claims against him and settlements dating years.
  • Two women, both well-regarded former law enforcement officials in Philadelphia, are challenging Williams in the Democratic primary May 21.

Jewell Williams, the beleaguered Philadelphia sheriff running for re-election, lost a key endorsement Wednesday when top officials with the City Democratic Party rescinded their support.

Outrage by women's advocates groups, including the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women, came in the two days since Monday's endorsement by the policy committee of the city Democrats.

Protests outside another endorsement vote planned for this Friday will take place outside the party headquarters.

Sexual harassment lawsuits have dogged Williams' second term. The City of Philadelphia paid out a $127,000 settlement earlier this year and the state legislature's Democratic caucus paid out $30,000 to settle a claim dating back to 2012 when Williams served as a state representative in Harrisburg.

The sheriff's office is responsible for courthouse security, prisoner transports, house auctions, and serving citizens with certain court documents, including evictions. Roughly 400 employees work for the office, which had a $26 million budget this year.

The policy committee that first endorsed, then pulled, its support comprises 12 influential Democratic party leaders, including former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell and labor leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty.

Two women with law enforcement backgrounds and a former city corrections officer  are challenging Williams in the May 21 primary election. Former Deputy Sheriff Detective Malika Rahman and Rochelle Bilal, a former city police officer and leader of the Guardian Civic League, are trying to unseat the incumbent.

Larry King, a doctor of theology, is also running.

Attempts to reach Williams have been unsuccessful. Rahman, who spent three years working in the sheriff's office under Williams, said pulling the endorsement "is the accountability we all hoped for."

"As law enforcement officers, we have three pillars: Honor, integrity and service. That's supposed to be our foundational layer," Rahman said Wednesday. "You can't do the job if you have no integrity, if your integrity has been questioned."

Bilal, who served 27 years as a Philadelphia police officer and spent 12 years as head of the Guardian Civic League, called the entire endorsement process "pretty troubling."

"It said to women around this city and the country that they didn't believe women," Bilal said of the initial endorsement. "In my administration, we are not going to have that. I have no tolerance for harassment, against women or men."

She said she's the only one of the four candidates who hasn't been affiliated with the sheriff's office, an independence Bilal said is a difference-maker in the race. One of her main goals as sheriff would be to "keep people in their homes," alluding to one of the main duties of the sheriff's office: house auctions on homeowners in default.

The sheriff's endorsement came after the Democratic City Committee's policy panel conducted interviews Monday with all Democratic candidates running for municipal offices this year

Five of the 30 candidates running for at-large City Council seats were also endorsed, along with Mayor Jim Kenney, who is seeking a second term. The five at-large candidates endorsed are the three incumbents running for re-election, Allan Domb, Derek Green and Helen Gym, along with Sandra Dungee Glenn and Katherine Gilmore Richardson.

The endorsements by the City Committee panel precede another endorsement vote this week by the Democratic ward leaders. The city is broken up into wards, geographical boundaries that are the backbone of the political system in Philadelphia.

In addition to Brady, Blackwell and Dougherty, the city Democratic Party's policy committee that made initial endorsements Monday night are state Rep. Angel Cruz, Michael McAleer, Anna Brown, Pete Wilson, Shawn Dillon, Edgar Campbell, Shirley Gregory, Lou Agre and Bob Dellavella, according to the committee's website.

It's Official: Candidates for Mayor, Sheriff, City Council in Philadelphia

Incumbents in nearly every elected position in Philadelphia are facing competition in the upcoming May municipal elections. Notably, Mayor Kenney faces an old foe, and two women are trying to unseat the incumbent sheriff and become the first-ever female sheriff in the city.

Democrat names are in blue and Republicans in red.


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