Enoch Williams, Brooklyn Political Leader, Remembered

April 27, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Raanan Geberer

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN — Brooklyn Democrats Friday remembered Enoch Williams, a former Council member who represented Bedford-Stuyvesant and Brownsville between 1978 and 1997.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Williams, 84, died at his home in Florida on Tuesday, April 24.

Rep. Ed Towns (D-East/Central Brooklyn) praised Williams for having made “a significant contribution to New York City residents by passing a bill that required the New York Department of Health to take possession of medical records when a hospital is closed. Until then, records could be discarded as refuse and some records were not properly handled and wound up on the street. In fact, that happened to my records and I worked with him on getting a bill passed.”

“He was a great soldier [in the National Guard], a leader and a councilman,” said Steven Cohn, a Kings County Democratic leader and partner in the Court Street law firm of Goldberg and Cohn. “He was a fun guy, an interesting guy and a hard-working councilman.”

Williams, a graduate of LIU-Brooklyn, served for 30 years in the New York National Guard and was commander of the Guard between 1990 and 1995. He held a number of civic and community leadership positions, including director of the Housing Development Corporation of the Council of Churches.

Rep. Major Owens, who served from 1982 to 2007 in a district that stretched through East and Central Brooklyn to Park Slope, recalled that former Brooklyn Democratic boss Meade Esposito recruited Williams to run against him.

“They [the regular Democratic organization] were unhappy that I had won in the first place, when I beat Vander Beatty in the primary. So Enoch did Meade Esposito’s bidding. Enoch was involved in business, in housing, and he used his political connections for his own benefit.” Still, said Owens, “He was a pretty decent guy, personally.”

The congressman’s son, Chris Owens, a political activist and consultant, also ran against Williams in 1989, in his case unsuccessfully. “This was my first run for public office,” said Chris Owens. “Enoch was an old-school gentleman, he was part of the political establishment, he was well-liked. His death is part of the continuing end of an era.”

In 1994, Williams protested Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s unsuccessful scheme to sell Coney Island Hospital and two Queens public hospitals — Elmhurst Hospital Center and Queens Hospital Center — to private management. At the time, Williams charged that the mayor was deliberately choosing to sell three of the more profitable city hospitals to more easily deal a blow to the remaining hospitals.

However, according to Jonathan Hicks, writing in The New York Times in 1997, Williams became unpopular during his last few years in the Council and was “harshly criticized in recent years by some for his continued support of budget agreements between the Council Speaker, Peter F. Vallone, and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, that reduced spending on many services, from public hospitals to youth programs.” The Rev. Al Sharpton also criticized Williams, saying he wasn’t standing up enough for the black community.

Before Williams withdrew from the race that year, former Assemblyman Clarence Norman, who was then the Brooklyn Democratic county leader, said he planned to support Tracy Boyland, who was planning to challenge Williams in the Democratic primary.

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