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Philly Democratic leaders back Sheriff Jewell Williams for third term amid ‘me too’ trouble

The endorsement of Philadelphia's Democratic Party organization can still make a difference in a place where the party primary is typically decisive.

Jewell Williams (left) draws for ballot position out of the coffee can in room 676 of City Hall, in Philadelphia, Wednesday March 20, 2019, with Kevin Kelly, acting supervisor of elections.
Jewell Williams (left) draws for ballot position out of the coffee can in room 676 of City Hall, in Philadelphia, Wednesday March 20, 2019, with Kevin Kelly, acting supervisor of elections.Read moreJESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams, dogged by serial sexual harassment complaints, dodged a serious political threat Monday evening when a group of Democratic Party leaders voted to back his bid for a third term.

The Democratic City Committee’s 13-member endorsement screening group approved Williams, along with two newcomers for City Council at-large and one candidate for City Commissioners.

That and other recommendations will be considered when the party’s ward leaders gather Friday at noon. Former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the local party, said the ward leaders usually follow the lead of the policy committee.

Winning the primary can be the most difficult hurdle in a city where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 7-1, leaving the general election as a formality more often than not.

The endorsement guarantees the candidate’s name will appear on the party’s official sample ballot, one of the most circulated pieces of political literature of Election Day. It can also help spark fund-raising.


No surprise here: The party’s leaders voted unanimously to support Mayor Jim Kenney for a second four-year term. That doesn’t mean the mayor will have a smooth ride. He has two well-known primary challengers, State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams of West Philadelphia and former City Controller Alan Butkovitz, leader of Northeast Philadelphia’s 54th Ward.

The lone Republican in the race, Billy Ciancaglini, was not endorsed by his party. The Republican City Committee had backed Daphne Goggins, who dropped out on March 11 for health reasons.

City Council At-Large

The Policy Committee voted to support for two open at-large Council seats Sandra Dungee Glenn, a former member of the School Reform Commission, and Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who had been chief of staff to retiring Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. They also endorsed three incumbents: Derek Green, Allan Domb, and Helen Gym.

Brady said Isaiah Thomas, who ran for Council four years ago, finished a close third.

“Dungee Glenn had most of the support, a lot of support and Richardson had support from the white wards and African American ward leaders," Brady said.

Seven of City Council’s 17 seats are at-large, meaning the people who hold them represent the entire city. The other 10 seats are held by people who represent geographic districts. District seat endorsements are made in smaller meetings of the ward leaders who represent those parts of the city.

This year’s at-large primary initially drew 34 Democratic candidates, an unusually large field. Four were removed from the ballot or withdrew amid legal challenges to their nomination petitions, leaving 30 Democrats.

One motivation for the crush of candidates: retirements. Brown announced in January she would not seek a sixth at-large term. At-large Councilman Bill Greenlee followed in February, passing on a run for a fourth term.

Two of the seven at-large seats are set aside for the minority party in the city. The GOP did not endorse its two incumbents, Councilmen David Oh and Al Taubenberger, or any of their five primary challengers.


Brady said last week Democrats might remain neutral in the primary for sheriff. On Monday he said the option was discussed but discarded.

“Everybody agreed ... We thought about keeping it open — but then we would be turning our back on someone who is accused of something that’s not proven,” Brady said. “And we talked to Jewell. Both cases were settled up without his approval. He wanted to fight both of them.”

Brady, clearly aware of the heat his party could take for the endorsement, added: “I know what it looks like, I know what it is but we just had to do what we had to do.”

Williams, who has three primary challengers trying to head off his bid for a third term, is leader of North Philadelphia’s 16th Ward.

Williams has been laying low has shown no public signs of campaigning for reelection. Protesters outside the party’s headquarters last week demanded the sheriff’s resignation while he was inside, making his pitch.

The city’s Law Department last month agreed to pay $127,000 to a former Sheriff’s Office employee. The Democratic caucus of the state House settled a sexual-harassment suit against Williams, a former representative, in 2011 for $30,000. Another Sheriff’s Office employee has a sexual-harassment case pending in federal court.

City Commissioners

As with Council at-large, a retirement from the three-member board that runs elections in Philadelphia created a surge of candidates. Commissioner Anthony Clark is not seeking a fourth term, prompting a dozen Democrats to enter the race along with Commissioner Lisa Deeley, the board’s chairwoman.

The Policy Committee endorsed Deeley and Omar Sabir, a former constituent service staffer for State Sen. Vincent Hughes.

One of the three seats is set aside for the minority party in the city. Republican Commissioner Al Schmidt is on the primary and general election ballots this year.