Saying that the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office needs to be more of a resource to assist financially troubled families to remain in their homes rather than evict them, Guardian Civic League President Rochelle Bilal on Wednesday announced she will run for sheriff.
“When your home is taken away from you, you get despondent, you get depressed and you become withdrawn,” Bilal said. “I don’t think that this is what the sheriff’s office should be doing. You are elected by the people and you need to use your resources to be an advocate for change. Use those resources at your disposal to be something other than a bully for the banks.”
The Office of the Sheriff is the enforcement arm of the city’s court system responsible for, among other things, transporting prisoners, serving warrants and making arrests, collecting delinquent taxes and fees, and putting properties up for sheriff sales.
If she were to win election, Bilal would be the first woman elected to the office. Barbara Deeley replaced former Sheriff John Green when he resigned amid allegations of corruption in 2010. Deeley, who is white, was not elected.
Democrat Jewell Williams has held the office since 2011. Williams has not said publicly whether he will seek re-election. Multiple calls to his office were not returned this week.
Local political consultant Maurice Floyd said Williams, who was elected in 2012, “will absolutely run again.” Floyd said he expects Williams to announce he’s going to run again very soon.
In recent months, Williams has been dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct.
Former staffer Marlaina Williams, who is not related to the sheriff, filed a complaint in 2017 against him, saying he made inappropriate comments to her that violated the city’s sexual harassment policy. An internal investigation corroborated her complaint. And in April, she sued the city in federal court.
Marlaina Williams is one of at least three women who have accused Jewell Williams of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Bilal refused to comment on Williams’ legal woes. “I think it’s appropriate here for me to do what Michelle Obama says and take the high road,” she said, as she returned to the topic of foreclosures and sheriff’s sales.
In fiscal year 2017, 19,919 properties went up for sheriff sales. Bilal said she wants to work to reduce that number rather than grow it.
“Our city has an extreme poverty problem that is well publicized,” Bilal said. “There needs to be a change in direction for the office.”
Bilal has never held public office before.
She is a retired police officer and has been president of the Guardian Civic League since 2007. She currently serves as secretary for the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP.
On Wednesday, Bilal said her lack of political experience would help her and the community.
“It’s a fresh face and fresh start,” she said. “I am running because I don’t believe the old guard and politics as usual is working. It’s an elected job and that requires you to do more than just the standard. That’s what’s going on now.”