A DC Insider Seeks to Unseat Rangel
Will Clyde Williams' presidential ties help him topple New York's longest-serving congressman?
Many local press believe in Williams' brand. The candidate boasts endorsements from the New York Times and the Daily News among others (the New York Amsterdam News, the city's signature black newspaper, endorsed Rangel). But if Williams really wants to represent Harlem's new generation, he'll have to prove it.
"Every few years, people make the case that they are the future of Harlem politics and then fade away," said Errol Louis, NY1's political reporter. "Let's say Williams doesn't win, but stays, starts a political club and starts fielding candidates for lower level local offices -- then it starts to look like what David Dinkins, Basil Paterson, Percy Sutton and Charlie Rangel [who formed Harlem's powerful 'Gang of Four' political coalition] put together."
If he's committed, Williams might be right on time, considering many feel the Congressional Black Caucus, which boasted a median age of 62 in 2010, sorely needs fresh faces. His high-powered ties to former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama also may help his ambitions.
"Clinton owes a great debt to Rangel, so he's already done the nicest thing he could do for Clyde, which is not endorse Rangel for re-election," Louis says. "There's a different political culture in Harlem, compared with central Brooklyn, [where] the young people all ran against incumbents repeatedly. There, you've got to crack some heads. In Harlem, there's a culture of waiting one's turn. You've got to marry solid community work with effective political organizing in the electoral sphere."
Raised in Washington, D.C., Williams began his career in local politics. Joining the White House during the Clinton administration, he rose to become deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He has also served as national political director of the Democratic National Committee.
Williams met his wife of 10 years, Sutphen, during the last days of the Clinton administration, while she was working for then-national security advisor, Sandy Berger. "I met her in the Situation Room -- I thought I knew all of the persons of color at the White House. Sandy and I were talking and she walked in and his words became like Charlie Brown's teacher, 'Wah, wah,' " Williams recalls.
In 2001, the couple moved to Harlem so he could serve as domestic policy advisor to former President Clinton. A few years later, the family moved back to Washington, D.C., so Sutphen could serve as White House deputy chief of staff to President Obama, the first African American to do so, and in 2011, the family returned to Harlem. Combine their high-profile résumés and it's hard not to deem the parents of two, Sydney, 7, Davis, 5, as a power couple.
"We never use that term," he says with a smile, glancing at his wife's pizza. "I'll say this: It's time for someone to challenge the status quo."
Back upstairs, the office is buzzing with the excitement of possibility. Up the street an Espaillat election bus rolls down 125th street, blasting D Train's "You're the One for Me" in front of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. statue as potential voters mop their brows in the heat of the summer day.
Hillary Crosley is The Root's New York bureau chief.