Sheriff Jewell Williams is up for reelection next year in 2019, and is expected to be highly vulnerable to a primary challenge due to confirmed allegations that he sexually harassed one of his employees. Williams has actually been accused of harassment by four women, and so far an investigation has confirmed one of those accounts.
Several elected officials, including Mayor Kenney, have called on Williams to resign in the wake of these revelations, but so far Williams has maintained his innocence and appears undeterred from running for reelection. Unless he changes his mind, only the voters can send him packing, since the Sheriff is inexplicably an independently elected official who doesn't report to the Mayor.
Until recently, it was unclear whether any credible candidates would come forward to challenge Williams, despite his obvious political vulnerability of being a confirmed harasser.
Now, Holly Otterbein and Angela Couloumbis report that there are at least two Sheriff hopefuls eyeing a run, including Rochelle Bilal of the Guardian Civic League (the organization of black officers within the Fraternal Order of Police) and Sugarhouse executive Dan Stevenson, who is a former sergeant with the Philadelphia Warrant Unit, with a resume of other law enforcement and community work, including serving as a public safety liaison for 1st District Councilman Mark Squilla. Retired police officer Nick DiDonato, who ran for the 184th District state rep seat, is also considering a run, according to the Inquirer.
The Sheriff's office primarily deals with some very important issues around real estate and tax foreclosure in addition to their security duties with the courts, and despite the images of law enforcement conjured up by the word 'Sheriff,' running the real estate unit is the primary job. There have been all kinds of problems documented with the Sheriff's sale process, and its role in blight and foreclosure issues, so in addition to a plan to clean up the mess from the harassment scandal, it's pretty important for the next Sheriff to come with a credible plan to overhaul Sheriff's sales too. So far, the field of alternatives to Williams is tilted entirely toward the law enforcement side, with no clear sign yet of how the hopefuls would approach the tax foreclosure issues.
There's also the ad sales scandal that ensnared former Sheriff John Green in a long-running corruption case. Green just beat all the federal fraud charges recently, but the method for contracting for Sheriff's sale listings is still broken and needs an overhaul as well.
It will also be interesting to see which candidates appeal to the different political coalitions in the primary. There's been no love lost between the FOP and criminal justice reformers in recent times, so Bilal's position with the Guardian Civic League—which lives within the FOP—would normally be something of a red flag. At the same time, the GCL has clashed with the FOP over racism in the department and even endorsed D.A. Larry Krasner in the 2017 primary, so Bilal's candidacy could be seen an opportunity to elevate a different, more progressive voice for law enforcement to counter the FOP's John McNesby.
Dan Stevenson will be the clear choice of politicos affiliated with IBEW Local 98, as Stevenson's brother Brian is very active in 98, and Dan has supported Councilman Mark Squilla and most recently 39th ward leader Jonathan Rowan, who was defeated by Elizabeth Fiedler in the 184th District primary to replace outgoing Rep. Bill Keller.
We'll be following developments in this race closely on our blog, so sign up to receive our weekly newsletter to stay up to date.