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Recently, Bruce Williams, who is running to represent San Diego’s 4th Council District, attended a community meeting in Alta Vista.
“Someone said, ‘Bruce, we’ve got a pothole on Mariposa, right where it ends to the National City border,’” Williams recalled. “I took the phone out, put it on speaker and dialed my favorite number — 527-7500 — and showed that whole group, ‘Guys, this is what you do when you have a pothole.’”
It’s not surprising that Williams knows the city’s pothole repair phone number off the top of his head. He attended the meeting in Alta Vista as part of his day job as a senior policy adviser in the District 4 office.
Teaching constituents about what city government can do for them excites him. Williams contends he’s the best positioned to lead that kind of education effort among the nine candidates running to replace his former boss, Councilman Tony Young.
Williams has worked on and off for the city since the late 1980s, including as an aide to former Mayors Susan Golding and Dick Murphy, and spent the last four and a half years in Young’s office. His pitch to voters is that he knows the city and has built the relationships to deliver for the district.
But Williams, who switched his party registration from Republican to Democrat in January, also believes government has a limited role in solving the endemic economic and public safety problems the district faces. Some things, he said, he won’t be able to fix on his own.
“Let’s just face it,” he said. “I can sit up here and tell you or tell an audience that this is what I’m going to do, and this is going to be the panacea. And really, I’d just be misrepresenting myself, knowing that it ain’t gonna happen.”
This is Williams’ third time running for the council seat. He lost to Young in 2004 and 2006. We spoke this week about what he plans to do if he’s elected.
On Healthy, Affordable Groceries and Locally Owned Restaurants
Williams said he’s frustrated he can’t find an organic apple in the district, and that healthy grocery stores, such as Whole Foods and Sprouts, should want to come to southeastern San Diego.
He’ll push for the district’s development blueprints, known as community plans, to offer mixed-use and other grocer-friendly designations.
But the onus is also on district businesses and residents to change their habits, he said. Businesses have to offer good customer service and market to the residents’ needs, he said, and residents have to learn to eat more nutritiously. He noted Annie Belle’s and Huffman’s Bar-B-Q, two local restaurants that closed recently, didn’t offer particularly healthy food.
“We got to invite them in,” Williams said of healthier restaurants and grocery stores. “But we got to be ready for them to come.”
On District 4’s Demographics
District 4 has traditionally been represented by a black council member, but there’s now more Hispanic and Asian residents than blacks living there.
Williams, who is black, says he’ll have at least one person who speaks Spanish on his staff, and possibly someone who speaks Tagalog, the native language of the Philippines, as well.
“I think that there are certain principles that I will stand for in my office,” he said. “People should love their country. Family is very important. They should have the opportunity to have the faith of their choice.”
On the Influence of the Jacobs Center
Williams said he’s a strong supporter of the nonprofit Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation’s plans to develop nearly 60 acres of district land into housing and retail. He made a point of noting that Joe Jacobs, the Los Angeles-area businessman who founded the center, called himself a compassionate conservative and pushed free-enterprise as a solution to the district’s problems.
He said his office will assist Jacobs and any other developer that wants to build in the district with city permitting and planning.
That said, Williams doesn’t see much of a role for his office in the negotiations between the nonprofit and national chains, such as Walgreens and Walmart, that are planned to anchor the development.
“If Jacobs wants a certain price for their land and Walmart doesn’t want to do it, then it’s up to those guys to work it out,” he said.
He supports bringing Walmart to the district, but also said the company should hire locally.
On Public Safety
Williams talks tough on the district’s two significant public safety problems.
District 4 has a longstanding reputation as a crime haven, even though in the past three years, for instance, it’s had the third lowest crime rate in the city.
Williams blames the local media for perpetuating the stereotype and not spending enough time in the district. News cameras, he said, filled a District 4 candidate debate that was held in Balboa Park, but few media members came to one with more people in attendance held the following week inside the district.
Williams said the media’s attitude toward the district tends to be: “‘I feel more comfortable being around people like me so I’ll take somebody’s word for it when it comes to what’s going on down there. Because I don’t want to go down there myself.’”
He said his office will work to promote good things happening in the district.
Serious crime, however, remains. Almost a quarter of the city’s murders over the last three years took place in District 4.
Unlike many of his opponents, Williams emphasizes severe penalties for those found guilty of crimes over neighborhood policing as a public-safety strategy.
“What government can do is be tough on crime and punish those that do bad,” he said.
He said the city could partner with nonprofits and San Diego County to deal with more health and social service aspects of crime.
Williams’ Achilles’ Heel
At one point during our conversation, Williams referred to the Republican Party as “we.” He was a registered Republican for many years, and still holds many conservative views. He recently solicited help for his campaign on the local conservative website San Diego Rostra.
Williams said numerous factors contributed to his switching to the Democratic Party two months ago, but the November election was the last straw.
“Nothing made me do it more so than watching the television and seeing states where Republican legislatures were in control, and there were people that looked like me standing in long lines to vote,” he said.
Williams also said that he voted twice for President Obama.
But District 4 has the largest percentage of registered Democrats in the city, and is the only district where Democrats make up more than half of registered voters. Fewer than one in five voters is registered Republican.
Williams said he understands that people may question whether his switch was opportunistic.
“It had been in my heart and mind to do it for a while,” he said.
Get in Touch With Him
Office phone + email: 619-301-3573 + firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Bruce Williams
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.550.5663.
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