Former police, fire commissioners endorse Tony Williams at Guardian Civic League event [audio]

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 Mayoral candidate Anthony Hardy Williams accepts the Guardian Civic League endorsement, flanked by group president Rochelle Bilal, former Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Mayoral candidate Anthony Hardy Williams accepts the Guardian Civic League endorsement, flanked by group president Rochelle Bilal, former Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers and former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. (Brian Hickey/WHYY)

Sure, the Guardian Civic League, a group supporting Philadelphia’s black police officers, announced its endorsement of mayoral candidate Anthony Hardy Williams last week.

At a Tuesday press conference, though, Philadelphia’s former police and fire commissioners took the microphone to explain why they, too, believed Williams is the best candidate in the field.

Sylvester Johnson worked in the police department for 43 years, serving as commissioner under then-Mayor John Street from 2002 through 2008.

He’s since moved to Delaware and, as such, can’t vote in the race, but told those assembled at the GCL’s Girard Avenue headquarters why he would cast a ballot for Williams if he could.

“One of the things that the mindset of the next mayor should be is community policing,” Johnson said. “Community policing is not a program. Community policing is a mindset; a mindset from the top down. The mayor should have it. The police commissioner should have it. And I know Sen. Williams does have it.

“Every police officer in the city of Philadelphia should be involved in community policing. It shouldn’t be a special program.”

He took issue with the department’s 60 college-credit requirement to qualify as a police officer and focused on intradepartment diversity.

“Diversity is very, very important,” he said. “If you look around the entire country, whether it’s Ferguson (Mo.),  Baltimore or some of these other cities where they’re having problems, people who work in the department should reflect the city.”

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers, who retired from the post last year, spoke about ongoing “community risk reduction” efforts that brings firefighters, medics and residents together. He noted that some firefighters will support Williams (despite their union’s endorsement of Jim Kenney.)

“He shares our concern for protecting lives and property in every neighborhood within this city,” said Ayers, whose daughter Jenne is seeking an at-large council seat. “He has a long and consistent history of caring for the lives and safety and firefighters and visiting fire stations all across the city, and shares our concern about diversity in the fire department. … He is the right person for this mayoral seat.”

For her part, Guardian Civic League President Rochelle Bilal took shots at Kenney’s 23-year tenure on City Council.

“At a time when cities are burning in the wake of a pattern of police abuse across the country, we cannot afford to have a mayor who the Inquirer reported [in a 1997 article] was ‘annoyed’ by the restraints on a police force and refuses to condemn hate speech,” said Bilal, referring to Williams’ call to fire officers for using hateful language (which is something that Kenney has condemned.)

In accepting the endorsement, Williams also released a “Plan for a Safer One Philadelphia” policy paper (PDF) that “truly represents public safety for all Philadelphians regardless of who you are, regardless of whether you have money and a double-breasted suit or a young lad with a tattoo on the side of your neck.”

“If they’d had body cameras on those police officers in Baltimore,” he said of one facet of the plan, “the facts would have been readily apparent right away. There wouldn’t be speculation, nor would their be the tension in cities that we already feel.

“It goes back to basic issues of trust. Do we believe that a police officer has our best intention in mind, and does the public, those who are of goodwill and those who are not, understand what the value of having police officers in our communities are? Trusted partners in peace. That’s who they should be, and that’s who many are. So today is about restoring that understand from a prospective person who wants to be mayor of your city.”

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