Sheriff candidate rounds up support

State Rep. Jewell Williams (right), with fellow Rep. Jim Wansacz.
State Rep. Jewell Williams (right), with fellow Rep. Jim Wansacz.
Posted: March 08, 2011

Democratic ward leaders, City Council members, labor leaders, clergy and political operatives turned out yesterday in City Hall to bless state Rep. Jewell Williams' campaign for Philadelphia sheriff.

Even Williams seemed a bit awed by the support.

"In politics, you don't really get this kind of accolades until you're lying flat in a box," he joked.

But the event was an unofficial requiem of sorts - for a City Council proposal setting up a public referendum on whether to abolish the sheriff as one of the city's independent elected officials.

The bill looks dead, at least while the current Council is in office.

"Nobody has the political will to do it," said Councilman Frank DiCicco, the bill's prime sponsor. "I could go out there and kick and scream, but I don't like to get into fights I'm gonna lose."

"To have a vote on abolishing an office while someone is running for it just doesn't make sense to me," said Councilman Bill Greenlee, chairman of the committee in which DiCicco's bill is sitting. "I'm not aware of any support for it."

The Sheriff's Office has a $13 million budget and about 220 employees. They provide courtroom security, move prisoners between the Criminal Justice Center and city prisons, auction properties for tax delinquencies or foreclosed mortgages, serve eviction notices and handle other civil complaints.

Mayor Nutter, the Committee of Seventy civic group and the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (PICA) have all suggested the city could save money by moving the sheriff's duties to other departments and doing away with the elected, $118,000-a-year office.

But Williams, 53, who spent six years in charge of courtroom security for the office before his 2000 election to the state House, became a favorite for the job last year, when former Sheriff John D. Green announced plans to retire.

A federal investigation and a forensic audit of Green's record-keeping has not dampened the Democratic Party's enthusiasm for Williams, and even Nutter was praising him yesterday.

"I don't believe you have to have an elected person in that office," Nutter said in a phone interview. "But the clock marches on. . . . Jewell Williams has said directly to me that the office needs reform, and he wants to work with the administration to get the office in shape."

John Kromer, a former city housing director competing with Williams for the Democratic nomination, has vowed that he'll try to abolish the office if elected. Another potential candidate, Alan Kurtz, announced yesterday that he's dropping out of the race.

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