Philadelphia’s Democratic Party has revoked its controversial recommendation to endorse Sheriff Jewell Williams, the target of three sexual-harassment complaints as he seeks a third term in the May 21 primary election.
Lou Agre, leader of the 21st Ward, said the party’s policy committee reconvened Tuesday evening and “decided to get it right, rather than just have a decision.”
That committee provoked outrage Monday by voting to recommend Williams receive the endorsement of the city’s 69 ward leaders in a meeting at noon Friday.
Agre said the policy committee’s recommendation now is to have no primary endorsement in the four-way race for sheriff. That decision still has to be ratified in a vote by the ward leaders.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the party chairman, had previously discussed taking no position in the primary, in which Williams faces three challengers – Rochelle Bilal, Malika Rahman, and Larry King Sr.
Brady on Monday said the policy committee swung in Williams’ favor after hearing him describe how two sexual-harassment cases filed against him were settled against his wishes. A small group of protesters stood outside the Democratic City Committee headquarters during that interview with Williams last week, waving signs that said “You have disgraced the uniform” and “Sheriff Williams must go.”
A flier for another protest, coinciding with the ward leader vote Friday, was circulating on social media Tuesday and Wednesday. It called for people to “stand up to perpetrators of sexual misconduct” and declared: “Endorsements of harassers of women of color are endorsements of the harassment of women of color.”
The city’s Law Department in February agreed to pay $127,000 to a former Sheriff’s Office employee who had sued Williams. The Democratic Caucus of the state House settled another sexual-harassment case against Williams, a former state representative, in 2011 for $30,000, paid to a former staffer.
A third case, filed in federal court by a current Sheriff’s Office employee, looms over Williams and his bid for reelection.
Vanessa Bines, an administrative assistant, alleged in a lawsuit filed in October 2017 that Williams “showed a romantic interest” in her and invited her to “expensive dinners after work.” Bines also alleged that Williams ignored her complaints about sexual harassment from another high-ranking officer and then retaliated against her with disparaging remarks and unfair treatment after she started a relationship with the sheriff’s driver.
Williams, who leads the 16th Ward, “does not have a comment at this time" about the revoked endorsement recommendation, according to Thera Martin, a spokesperson for his campaign.
The Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO endorsed Williams last week, angering an affiliate, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, which declared the move tells working women “workplace abuse does not matter.”
Williams has been missing in action on the campaign trail this year, avoiding public interaction. He announced his reelection campaign at an event not publicized ahead of time and then avoided a local television station’s camera after reportedly agreeing to an interview.
City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart has requested financial information from the Sheriff’s Office about expenditures of city money in ways that have promoted Williams as an officeholder.
A primary loss would complete a remarkable political fall for Williams, a former Temple University police officer and sheriff’s deputy, who served six terms in the state House and was easily elected as sheriff in 2011.
Williams has faced little in the way of political competition before now, winning a second term in 2015 with 79 percent of the vote. The Republican Party in Philadelphia does not have a candidate for sheriff on the ballot this year.