Jumaane Williams on his wild week

Ali Garber
New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams

Jumaane Williams on his wild week

The New York City councilman on his arrest and his run for lieutenant governor.
January 17, 2018

Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams has has been all over the news lately.

On Thursday, he was very publicly arrested for protesting the deportation of an immigrant activist. Four days later, Williams announced that he is forming an exploratory committee into running for lieutenant governor, a way to challenge Gov. Andrew Cuomo from his political left in a race that - unlike the governorship - may actually be winnable.

Williams is so focused on a statewide run, he says, that he asked not to chair a committee in the New York City Council – and that it wasn’t political payback from one-time rival City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Williams says he’ll tour the state testing the waters for an LG candidacy, but claimed he’s already gotten validation of sorts from an important source: Cuomo’s top aide. Here’s what Williams told City & State reporter Jeff Coltin about his wild week.

C&S: You’re one of the few New York City Council members who didn’t get a committee chairmanship. Was this retribution for staying in the speaker’s race?

JW: I’m probably one of the few council members who didn’t ask for a committee chairmanship. I haven’t felt any type of retribution from the speaker. I’ve seen the reporting on this, and I think people report from the paradigm that they’re used to. In this type of race, folks have to, I guess, choose winners and losers, and the only thing they’re used to was committeeships. It’s clear now I had some focus on some other things.

I respect this institution a lot, and I would not ask for something that I could not fully give attention to. Particularly with Housing and Buildings, I think we’ve done a lot of great work, and I wouldn’t ask for that committee again unless I could give 100 percent from the beginning. The things that I did ask for, I’m very excited that I’ll have the opportunity to work on stuff like diversity in the workforce, which is a big thing that I brought up in the speaker’s race. I would say 95 percent of the things I asked from the speaker, he responded positively to.

C&S: Was not asking for a committee chairmanship a way to focus on your statewide ambitions?

JW: I’m always going to do my job as a council member. But I knew I wanted to open this exploratory committee, and it’s hard to focus on an exploratory committee for lieutenant governor – and hopefully it turns into a full-fledged run – I believe it would be hard to do that and chair a committee like Housing and Buildings. A very, very important committee, I believe, and a dense conversation. And I’m very proud of the work I’ve done in the past four years with it.

C&S: You won’t chair a committee, but you are the chairman of the Task Force on City Workforce Equity. Is that a new group?

JW: Yes, absolutely. That was one of my primary requests, gauging the time and resources I’ll be able to put into something. This is a key issue for me. I made (the name) very plain, about diversity generally speaking, specifically in the workforce and in government, and making sure that people have equity across the board. Particularly the higher up you go in many agencies, and appointees, we need to take a hard look at that, because there’s a feeling that everyone’s not being represented, and I think that feeling is correct. 

C&S: Is there a particular area you expect to look at?

JW: I’m not sure we’ve done this on this level before, so I don’t want to presuppose what direction it’s going to go. But I know, just having been in the council for eight years, when I am questioning agencies across the board about diversity, generally speaking the higher up you go in most agencies, the less diverse it is. That’s unfortunate. We’ve got to figure out what’s happen