Who is Jumaane Williams? What to know about the NYC public advocate

Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams became the new public advocate Tuesday, winning a special election against 16 other candidates.

Williams won with 33.22 percent of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting. He will hold the position at least until the end of this year, but will have to run again in a primary in June and a general election in November to complete the term left open by attorney general Letitia James.

Scroll down for 13 fast facts about Williams:

He has been elected to the City Council three times 

Williams was first elected in 2009 in District 45, which represents Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, Midwood and Canarsie. He was re-elected in 2013 and 2017. 

One of the first issues he addressed as a councilman was the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” policy. He co-sponsored the Community Safety Act, which created the Office of Inspector General in the NYPD.

Among other legislation he has sponsored is the “Ban the Box” bill, which prohibits employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history before making an offer.

He ran for lieutenant governor in 2018

Williams ran for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary in 2018, losing to incumbent Kathy Hochul. He and then-gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon cross-endorsed each other and were supported by the Working Families Party.

Though he lost overall, Williams won his home borough of Brooklyn, as well as Manhattan. 

He is a first-generation Brooklynite

Williams is the son of Grenadian immigrants and is a first-generation Brooklynite. He attended public schools in Brooklyn and graduated from Brooklyn College.

He is known as an activist and embraces that title

Williams prefers to be an “activist-elected official,” rather than a “politician.” He is known to attend rallies and has been arrested at protests multiple times. Last year, he was arrested at a protest in support of Ravi Ragbir, an immigrant rights leader who had been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Manhattan.

He’s a longtime advocate for affordable housing 

Before running for City Council, Williams was the executive director of New York State Tenants & Neighbors, a housing rights advocacy group.

He was arrested in 2009 on harassment charges 

Just before the public advocate election, a 10-year-old arrest for harassment and criminal mischief became public. Williams confirmed to the New York Daily News that he had a “verbal disagreement” with his girlfriend at the time. He told The New York Times he had thrown her purse on the floor and left the apartment, tripping over a chair as he left that hit the wall and caused a snow globe to fall from a shelf. 

He said there was no physical violence or threat of violence. Charges were dropped and the arrest record was sealed. 

His views on abortion and marriage have been scrutinized

Williams has said he is personally opposed to abortion because of a personal experience, but he believes women should have the right to choose.

He also once said he believed marriage was between a man and a woman, but his view has evolved and he says he supports marriage equality. 

He has been questioned about these views several times, but stands by his voting record.

He says he doesn’t want to run for mayor (at least not in 2021)

In an amNewYork questionnaire for the public advocate candidates, Williams said he was “unequivocally” not interested in running for mayor in 2021. He repeated that sentiment in his victory speech Tuesday night, saying he was not after Mayor Bill de Blasio’s job.

He has Tourette’s syndrome

Williams has spoken publicly about his Tourette’s syndrome and hopes he can inspire others diagnosed with the disorder to not let it hold them back.

In his public advocate victory speech Tuesday night, Williams told a story about a young man with the syndrome who had come up to him after he lost the lieutenant governor primary in September.

“A young man, as I was leaving outside, came up to me, six months ago at this very site, and said that just like me, he had Tourette’s Syndrome. That he wanted to get into government to make change, but that he didn’t know if he could. That when he saw me, he was inspired,” Williams said. “And when I heard him, so was I. It’s part of what inspired me to take this journey, to run this race. Because everyone has moments when they don’t feel heard, when they need a voice.”

He used to have dreadlocks 

Williams’ shoulder-length dreadlocks became well-known when he was elected to the City Council and he kept them until 2016, leading some to speculate he was thinking about running for a higher office.

But Williams told amNewYork in 2018 that running for a higher officer wasn’t part of the decision. 

“One, my hair was thinning and I didn’t want to wait until too late,” he said. “And there were some spiritual feelings that it was time to move on.”

He cut his hair around the same time he was in the hospital for a hernia surgery. “I was in the hospital and I almost didn’t make it … it was right around my 40th birthday,” he said.

Williams laughed when heard that “Jumaane Williams dreadlocks” was a top Google search. “The last time I checked that, I think ‘Tourette’s’ and ‘married’ or ‘wife’” led, he said.

Before running for City Council, he appeared in two music videos

Williams appeared in music videos for EPMD’s “Da Joint” and The Solo’s “Touch Me.” 

In “Da Joint,” he is seen in the back of a red jeep with other passengers at the very beginning.

In the opening scene of the “Touch Me,” he tries to get into a club and is pushed up against a wall by the bouncer. He is later seen dancing inside the club.

His heroes are Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Spiderman

“When I was young … they were all the same. I was always inspired by those who stood up for people who were downtrodden and couldn’t fight back,” he told amNewYork in 2018.

He’s often seen wearing a backpack

Williams tried using a briefcase when he first started working, but it wasn’t for him, he told amNewYork during his run for lieutenant governor. Instead, he’s often seen wearing a backpack, and usually doesn’t let other people carry it for him. Williams gave us a peek inside his beloved backpack in September.

With Polly Higgins