Last week, Columbia was kicked out of New York’s 13th Congressional district, and Clyde Williams, who’s running to represent District 13 in Congress, thinks he knows why. According to Capital:
The “political leadership was afraid of the whites on the Upper West Side” not supporting them anymore, Williams told a group of small business owners he met with in Washington Heights this morning.
Those political leaders “are more interested in maintaining their political power than actually doing something that benefits the community,” said Williams. “I think it’s a travesty that they’ve given up the greatest economic engine in upper Manhattan. Now it’s become part of the Upper West Side, Jerry Nadler’s district.”
Williams’ worry that “the political leadership” of the district prioritized racial politics over economic advancement meshes with what he told us in an exclusive interview over Spring Break. At the time, no one knew whether the redistricting process would keep Columbia in District 13 or shift it over to District 10. “I hope that Columbia stays part of the district.” Williams told us. “I don’t know if it will,” he added, “but the bottom line is whether it stays part of the district or not, it’s a major component of what Upper Manhattan is about.” Even if Columbia didn’t stay in District 13, Williams argued, it would continue to provide economic opportunities to people in the district.
“If Columbia University continues to grow,” Williams explained, “that means that—if we make certain we work closely with them—people that live in this community have the ability to get jobs based on Columbia University’s growth and development.” The Manhattanville expansion, in particular, “has the potential to be a huge economic engine for the community overall.” He pragmatically side-stepped the thorny question of Columbia’s use of eminent domain to secure the expansion, insisting that “the Manhattanville expansion has been approved, so it’s a done deal. It’s not about whether or not it should happen; it’s about whether or not the actual development is going to be beneficial to the community and the people who live here.”
It was clear in the interview that Williams emphasized economic opportunity over racial politics. A few days before our interview with Williams, Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr. told a crowd that the district, which contains more Latinos than African-Americans, nonetheless “should continue in the future to be represented by a black individual.” Williams shrugged off Diaz’s remark, telling us, “I don’t have an opinion on whether it’s a Latino district or an African-American district.” He added, “I think people who want to run should run. I don’t care if they’re Latino, African-American, or white.”
At one point, he objected to the lazy assumption that District 13 = Harlem = African-Americans. “When people talk about this district, it’s not Harlem,” he explained. “This Congressional district is Harlem, but it’s also all these other neighborhoods right now.” He then pledged to represent people of all races if elected. “If I represent this Congressional district, I’m going to represent everybody who calls it home,” he promised. “I don’t care if you’re Latino, Asian-American, African-American, I don’t care if you’re white!”