In Public Service: Williams settles into new job as lawmaker
Jaime Williams, an avid fisher, reeled in the biggest catch of her life when she won a special election to the New York State Assembly on April 19. The election was held to fill the remainder of former Assemblymember Roxanne Persaud’s term in office, which would have ended this year.
Persaud won a state Senate seat in November of 2015, opening the door for someone to take her Assembly seat.
Williams served as Persaud’s chief of staff during the time Persaud was in the Assembly. She was encouraged by her old boss to run and was endorsed by Brooklyn Democratic County Chairman Frank Seddio and Seddio’s club, the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club.
“When this opportunity arose to run for public office, it was a perfect fit,” Williams told the Brooklyn Eagle during a May 26 interview in her district office at 5318 Ave. N in Mill Basin.
Prior to her tenure as Persaud’s chief of staff, Williams, whose background is in social work, was employed at Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens.
Williams represents the 59th Assembly District (AD), a district that takes in all or parts of several diverse Brooklyn neighborhoods, including Canarsie, Georgetown, Mill Basin, Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.
Williams said she ran for the seat to help her community. “I am from this community. If you don’t take an interest in your community, you can’t expect someone else to,” she said.
Just days after winning the special election, Williams traveled up to Albany, a trip she had made many times as Persaud’s top lieutenant, and was sworn into office by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle. The next day, she cast her first votes on legislation.
It would be a dizzying whirlwind of events for most people, but Williams appears to be taking it all in stride.
Still, the transition from staff member to assemblymember took getting used to.
To her staff’s surprise, Williams politely refused help putting together her office furniture and insisted on doing it herself. She didn’t want the staff to feel they were obligated to do it, she said. “I believe in treating workers with dignity and respect,” she said.
Her experience as Persaud’s chief of staff, coupled with her history as a social worker, gives her unique insight into a life of public service, she said.
“I had the experience working for Sen. Persaud when she was the assemblymember. And I’m a social worker. Advocacy has been at the center of my career,” Williams said.
“I understand the importance of this kind of work,” she said, adding that her training as a social worker made her aware “that you have to be able to get your point across in order to help people get the services they need.”
Williams has hit the ground running in Albany.
She has already introduced two bills; one that would protect the rights of tenants renting homes in foreclosure; and the other to amend the state’s environmental laws to protect bluefish.
While she is an avid fisher who often takes her rod to the Canarsie pier to fish for striped bass and blue fish, Williams also wants to ensure that new generations of bluefish thrive in New York state waters. Her bill would put restrictions on the size of bluefish fishermen could catch.
The tenants’ rights bill would mandate that homeowners renting houses to tenants inform the tenants if the home is in the process of foreclosure. Many tenants innocently rent homes only to find out that the bank is foreclosing on the homeowner and that they have to vacate, Williams said.
The tenant has the right to be fully informed of the status of the property, according to Williams.
Williams is a member of the Assembly Committees on Women and Children, Environment, Transportation and Tourism.
Williams, who was born and raised in Trinidad, came to the U.S. in 1999 and settled in New York City.
According to the official biography on her Assembly website, she earned a General Education Diploma (GED) when she came to the U.S. and then attended Kingsborough Community College. She went on to attend York College, were she earned bachelor’s degree in social work. She holds a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University and later earned a CASAC-T (Credential Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor) certificate from Kingsborough Community College.
After Superstorm Sandy devastated New York City in 2012, Williams went to work for Catholic Charities to assist residents from Canarsie, Bergen Beach, Gerritsen Beach and Coney Island whose lives were uprooted by the hurricane.
“I was one of the people in the trailer at MCU Park,” she said, referring to the Brooklyn Cyclones ball park that was used as a headquarters for emergency workers in the aftermath of Sandy. “Hundreds of people were coming through the doors looking for help.”
In one case, she represented 50 people from Coney Island, Canarsie and Breezy Point who had run into bureaucratic delays in obtaining food stamps.
Impressed with her work, officials at Catholic Charities promoted her to serve as project director for Brooklyn East. She worked to provide essentials like food stamps to residents in Brownsville, East New York, Canarsie and Mill Basin.
Williams also has years of experience counseling domestic violence victims and their children.
Her history helping domestic violence victims came full circle on her first day in Albany.
The Assembly was debating and voting on a bill to assist domestic violence victims. “They often flee their homes in the middle of the night with just the clothes on their backs,” Williams said.
Sitting in the gallery that day were representatives of a domestic violence shelter with whom Williams had worked.
“They saw me on the Assembly floor and wondered, ‘What is Jaime doing here?’ They didn’t know that I had won the Assembly seat,” she said.
Following the vote, she was reunited with the group and was delighted to see the advocates.
Williams and other advocates host a Christmas party each year for domestic violence victims and their children. In addition to toys for the kids, the volunteers give the family food baskets. “It’s important because it shows them there are people in the community who care about them,” she told the Eagle.
A longtime civic leader in Canarsie, Williams is a member of the Canarsie Lions Club and the 69th Precinct Community Council. She is a participant in the city’s Community Emergency Response Program (CERT) and was a member of Mill Basin Civic Association and Community Board 18.
One of her goals is to bring more activities, like kayaking, to the Canarsie Pier.
She continues to go to the pier when she can to fish. “Fishing teaches you to be patient. And it lets you be more in tune with nature,” she said.
Last year, she organized an event for Persaud in which they brought a group of school children to the pier and taught them how to fish. Some of the children even caught fish. “It’s a good thing the fish were biting that day,” Williams said.
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