A group of supporters gathered Friday in front of Philadelphia Sheriff Jewell Williams’ Center City office, rallying for his reelection amid controversy about sexual harassment claims and settlements.
But none of them had a vote in the Democratic City Committee meeting happening at the same time a little over a mile away in Northern Liberties. There, the party’s ward leaders voted unanimously to make no endorsement in the four-candidate May 21 primary for sheriff.
That leaves Williams, leader of the 16th Ward in North Philadelphia, to make his own way in his bid for a third term. He did not attend the meeting and cast no vote by proxy, according to former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city party chairman.
“We’re not the judge and jury,” Brady said about two sexual harassment claims filed against Williams and later settled, along with a third pending case. “We decided to keep it [an] open [primary] for the right reasons.”
“We thought about it,” Brady said. “It was the right thing to do. We wanted to get it right.”
Williams, through a spokesperson, declined to comment.
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 in 2011 for $30,000, paid to a staffer when Williams was a state representative.
A third case, filed by an administrative assistant in the Sheriff’s Office, is pending in federal court.
Williams’ supporters, who gathered outside his office to confront a smaller group of protesters calling for the sheriff’s resignation, rejected the allegations as lies.
“People keep listening to the media, what they hear, they’re going to run with it," said Renee Degree while holding a “Grandmothers for Jewell Williams” sign. "He didn’t know about the money being paid to these ladies. And you know what? He’s going to run away with the election.”
Taleah Taylor, who helped organize the counter-protest, also said she thinks the claims are lies.
“I’ve known Jewell since I was a little girl. We know how upstanding and honorable this man is,” she said. “When the truth comes out, people are going to talk about all the great things this man has done … and I just want everyone to shake his hand and say, ‘I’m sorry.’”