Democrat Jumaane Williams Says He’s Running for NY Governor

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Nov. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Democrat Jumaane Williams, New York City’s elected public advocate, is running for New York governor, making the self-described activist perhaps the most progressive candidate in next year’s increasingly crowded race already featuring two formidable and potentially history-making candidates.

Williams, a 45-year-old former New York City councilman who serves as a public ombudsman in his role as the city’s public advocate, shared his plans with The Associated Press before formally rolling out his campaign announcement Tuesday.

“I’m usually pushing and tugging at someone who has the levers to get it done,” Williams said. “At some point, you have to stop looking to other folks and say, ‘I’m going to do the best I can for the people of the state.’ And for me, that’s running for governor now.”

He faces Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat who took office after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped down, and Democratic Attorney General Letitia James.

Williams said what he offers in the Democratic primary next year — and Hochul and James don’t — is a longstanding record of speaking out against the status quo and Cuomo, even when it was politically inconvenient. He said even before the allegations emerged against Cuomo, Hochul should have spoken out against Cuomo and what he described as a generally toxic culture in Albany.

“We have a vision that runs against just incumbency protection, against status quo and for taking political risks on behalf of the people and presenting a vision, unabashedly about that. And that vision is what we’re going to run on and we think we’ll be successful,” he said.

In 2018 Williams unsuccessfully challenged Hochul in the Democratic race for lieutenant governor. While Hochul was Cuomo’s running mate and presented a united front with the then-governor, Williams said he would use the largely ceremonial role of lieutenant governor to serve as an independent voice and challenge Cuomo rather than serve as a rubber stamp.

That same year, as Cuomo and Hochul ran as a team, Cuomo was also one of James strongest political allies as she sought the attorney general’s office. He endorsed her and headlined a fundraiser on her behalf.

When asked if he was implying that Hochul was part of a generally toxic environment at the state Capitol, Williams said, “Clearly, there was a different vision that the lieutenant governor had, but I do again think that we would have been better off if there was a lieutenant governor that was expressly saying what was wrong and speaking out.”

The son of Grenadian immigrants, Williams has served as public advocate since 2019, giving him the power to investigate citizen complaints, sponsor legislation and use the bully pulpit of his office to push for change.

In that 2018 Democratic race for lieutenant governor, Hochul defeated Williams by 7 percentage points. He won more votes than Hochul in Manhattan, Brooklyn and two counties elsewhere in the state but Hochul swept every other county.

This time around, Williams said he thinks he’ll be successful because he’s better-known as someone who holds a citywide elected office, and said he aims to build a more robust campaign team and fundraise more than he did in his insurgent 2018 bid.

Williams is the most unabashedly progressive candidate to jump into the race. He’s often seen wearing a “Stay Woke” button on his lapel and has developed a reputation as a progressive who has been arrested several times for civil disobedience at demonstrations for liberal causes, especially on matters of immigration and police misconduct.