Longtime community organizer Deborah Williams announced Aug. 7 her run for 29th Ward alderman in next year’s race, in what’s becoming an ever-growing field of candidates.
After years of working behind the scenes for other candidates locally and nationally, Williams is making her first ever campaign run. Supporters gathered at Leap of Faith Ministries, 5318 W. Division, for the announcement.
“There’s about 10 people running for this position. People say, ‘Why won’t Deborah take all of her networks, all of her ideas, all the things she’s built over the last 20 years and let somebody else be the voice,” Williams said.
Already running are attorney Larry Andolino and Cook County Public Defender Kulmeet “Bob” Galhortra, both residents of Galewood, which will be drawn into the new 29th Ward map next year.
Incumbent Ald. Deborah Graham says she’s running for reelection. Graham was appointed by Mayor Richard Daley in 2010 after former 29th Ward alderman, Isaac Carothers, resigned following his federal corruption guilty plea. In 2011, she successfully ran to keep the seat.
Williams, a member of the Westside Branch NAACP, worked as a West Side coordinator for President Barack Obama’s successful 2012 reelection campaign.
Prior to that role — which she calls one of her biggest accomplishments — Williams worked on the campaigns of U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (7th), former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, and incoming Cook County Board Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st). Her first big victory as a campaign worker, she said, was the election of LaShawn Ford as 8th District state rep in 2006.
“I believe that this is my moment to speak for myself,” Williams told supporters Thursday.
Standing in front of an audience that included childhood friends, family members and fellow campaign workers — and even a few curiosity seekers — Williams was visibly nervous and said so.
Wearing an all-white power business suit, Williams arrived to the event almost two hours after its official start. Aware of the delay, she offered a “valid excuse:” she had been at the church hours earlier organizing the kickoff event and was still organizing by the time she walked through the door to loud applause.
Before speaking, Williams passed the microphone around the room for introductions. Most of the people in attendance have known Williams for years, including for her community organizing. After years working for others, many said she deserved to be seen, finally, out front.
“I’ve known Deborah since I was a little girl,” said Patricia Rae Easley-Cisse. “She helped raise me. We traveled all around the country together doing political work and civil rights work. I’m really here to support her and do whatever she [needs me to do].”
Thelma Ware recalled meeting Williams nearly 10 years ago while the two were members of the Westside NAACP.
“I’m happy she’s stepping out,” Ware said. “She has put everybody else on top, so now we’re going to put her on top.”
A graduate of Prosser High School, Williams later earned an accounting degree from Northeastern Illinois University. She entered the nonprofit sector after college as an administrator for churches and organizations, including Bethel New Life and New Horizons. Williams’ “introduction to the field of politics” was by happenstance, she said.
After discovering that the funding for those institutions is often filtered through a politician, she decided to “follow the money.”
“So I started going to political meetings and community meetings and trying to get out there so I could bring back resources to my nonprofits,” she said, adding: “That’s when I got the political bug.”
As 29th Ward alderman, Williams said she’ll work to address the ward’s “rash of foreclosures and drop in property values.”
With Election Day on Feb. 24, 2015, Williams’ campaign adviser Karl Avery, who’s known the candidate for 20 years, said they’re seeking to raise at least $50,000 for the race. Candidates have another two weeks — Monday Aug. 26 — before they can start petitioning for signatures to get on next year’s ballot. Still, Williams wants to position herself well in advance in order to secure the necessary 473 valid signatures, and to signal that she’s “serious.”
Concerning the incumbent, Williams pegged her as “the establishment candidate who has run her course.”
“I believe that she’s been around; she’s an experienced politician…but she’s served her time, and now it’s time for someone else to step in and be the voice of this community.”
Michael Romain is founder and editor of TheVillageFreePress.org