No stranger to Washington, or to the White House, Clyde Williams has worked for both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama as a domestic policy advisor and as political director of the influential Democratic National Committee, respectively.
In an initial meeting at Lenox Avenue’s stylish Italian restaurant Settepani, where he often takes guests and associates, Williams, who is 49, carefully outlined his likely 2012 bid for a seat in New York’s 15th Congressional District.
He sounded modestly optimistic about outpacing Rep. Charles Rangel in the primary, but insisted on defining the race in terms of district issues, not personalities.
He emphasized education, unemployment and job training, and added that he had a “great deal of experience” working on economic issues in government.
“The issues that are most important to a community like northern Manhattan – and I want to be clear that the district is not just Harlem, it’s northern Manhattan – are economic issues, the same issues that impact people all across our country,” said Williams in a subsequent telephone interview.
“I’ve seen first-hand, up close and personal, how good government can work and how government can actually do nothing,” he commented. “It’s extremely important that you pay attention to economic issues, because if you figure out how to move the ball on those issues, you can impact the community in a profound way.”
Born and raised in Washington, Williams first moved to Harlem in 2001 to work with the Clinton Foundation. He also ran the Harlem Speaker Series, which invited figures like former President Clinton, then-Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Congressman Charles Rangel, to speak in Harlem.
Though previously he split his time between Washington and New York, since June Williams has moved to Harlem full-time.
Williams has reportedly raised around $50,000 for his race, according to a recent article in the New York Times. He declined to confirm the figure, saying only that “people will find out how much money I’ve raised when I have to file my disclosure form” with the Federal Election Commission.
He acknowledged, however, that previous reports about his fundraising have captured figures in “the right ball park” for his early, exploratory campaign activities.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, Williams officially registered the Clyde Williams for Congress Exploratory Committee on November 9, allowing him to raise funds for a possible race. The committee, headed by Williams’ longtime friend Samuel Ginsberg, has not yet submitted official campaign finance reports and isn’t required to until January 31.
Williams also refused to comment on a poll he commissioned to assess his chances in the race against Rangel; he hired Whitman Insight Strategies, a firm often associated with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The New York Daily News has reported on the poll’s results, which showed that only 35 percent of those surveyed would vote for Rangel in the key Democratic primary. The sample was made up of 600 district residents likely to vote in the key Democratic primary.
In fundraising, he said, he would “cast a wide net…You definitely reach out to people you have some relationship with, but you have to go beyond that, too. We’ll see what happens.”
Williams’ ties to Harlem are fairly strong. Although he only moved to the neighborhood in 2001, Williams led the Harlem Small Business Initiative under the Clinton Foundation, which has offices on 125th Street. The program helped small local businesses with accounting, computing and other administrative tasks by providing expertise and mentors.
One business it aided is Settepani itself, where staff greeted Williams with respect. Williams deflected questions about how much work he has done in the community, however, saying instead that people can learn about his work by asking those affected by it.
Williams is also listed as the CEO of CEMK Inc., primarily a management consulting firm, according to official New York Department of State records. Opened in April 2005, the firm is currently defunct: Williams says he shut it down after he moved back to Washington in 2008, though it “still exists on paper.”
Williams and his campaign treasurer Ginsberg are also mentioned in a contract between Dicon Technologies LLC and SpongeTechReid. SpongeTechReid acquired Dicon for $2.35 million in July 2009, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Williams explained that he and four friends originally bought Dicon Technologies, which manufactures sponges in Savannah, Georgia, but eventually decided to sell the company as the national economy worsened. He declined to say how the $2.35m was split between the five company directors, or how much he initially invested in the firm.
SpongeTechReid CEO Michael Metter was later convicted in August 2010 for massive business fraud, after the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated the firm, which soon declared bankruptcy. “Dicon Technologies was a company we bought. It was a company based in China – we brought the company back to America and created 125 manufacturing jobs,” Williams said. “Just as friends, we bought a business.” He added that he had no inkling of SpongeTechReid’s corporate malfeasance.
Sources familiar with the uptown political scene felt unsure about Williams’ chances next year. “He’s a serious candidate with good credentials, but he has to come up with a compelling narrative for voters in the district,” said Basil Smikle, a political strategist and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
“His biggest issue is getting voters to know who he is, and really understanding the workings of the neighborhood. He’s got to get to know all the tenant leaders, community leaders and clergy leaders, and that takes time.”
Howard University, BA in Political Science
Past Career Highlights
National Political Director of the Democratic National Committee (2009 –2011)
Vice President for State and Local Government Affairs at the Center for American Progress (2004 – 2005)
Domestic Policy Advisor to the Clinton Foundation (2001 – 2005)
Current Employment Status
Williams has resigned from full-time employment to focus more fully on his likely 2012 campaign.
Mona Sutphen, deputy chief of staff for Barack Obama from 2008 to 2011, is Williams’ wife. Sutphen and Williams met in the White House.
Williams recently commissioned a poll, costing $25,000 to $30,000, by Whitman Insight Strategies, to assess his chances in the upcoming race against incumbent Charles Rangel, according to The New York Daily News. In an email sent to his campaign mailing list, Rangel urged Williams to release the findings, but Williams has declined to disclose the poll’s results or cost. The Daily News reports the findings as encouraging for Williams, however.