Williams staying the course with campaign message
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
Four years after using a campaign strategy that almost unseated longtime state attorney Willie Meggs, Pete Williams is sticking with the same platform while running for the office under the same party banner.
The veteran defense lawyer said he decided to stay on message while running as a Republican because anything else would be inconsistent with his beliefs. He emerged from the 2012 campaign with 49 percent of the votes.
“I thought if I changed parties I would lose integrity,” said Williams, a former statewide prosecutor. “I’m campaigning on the same things I said four years ago. I don’t want to ever be perceived as ever doing something just to win it.”
Improving conviction rates and a more rapid resolution of cases top Williams’ agenda. He’d also like to develop a diversion program for drug addicts instead of having them arrested as repeat offenders. Crimes against children also is high on his list of priorities.
Williams, 63, is running against defense attorney Sean Desmond and Jack Campbell, who has worked for Meggs for the past 11 years. They are running for the Second Judicial Circuit, which includes six counties — Leon, Gadsden, Wakulla, Jefferson, Liberty and Franklin.
Williams is so committed to winning this time around that he has shut down his private law practice with the firm Sukhia & Williams to run for the office. In his first try, Williams had his strongest showing in three counties, including Franklin where he grew up on a farm in Malone.
When his father took a job with the now defunct PanAm airlines, Williams’ family moved to Boston. He attended a boarding school there, and immediately began to establish a sense of caring for fairness, people who know him say.
He later earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, then attended Stanford University, where he earned a master’s in business administration. He also holds a law degree from the University of Florida.
Williams began to practice law in the Pensacola area in 1986. Several years later, he landed a job with the state attorney’s office. He found that job more gratifying than private practice, Williams said.
“It was about real people and real issues,” he said. “It’s not about billing for money.”
Williams’ decision to give up making money in private practice to put himself in a position to help more people doesn’t surprise Chip Boynton, a childhood friend. Boynton said since their days in grade school and later when they attended Yale University, Williams has had a penchant for bringing people together for a common cause.
“That’s not something everybody has the ability or the interest to do,” Boynton said. “Everybody in politics makes promises because they want to get elected. One of the things I can say about Pete without any hesitation is that he knows how to make genuine relationships.
“People will follow Pete because, not only is he good to his word, but he engages people. He listens to people; hears what they say.”
What he’s been hearing and seeing is that the state attorney’s office has shown biases, said Williams, who insists that there is an inconsistency in the way the office handles cases involving Blacks.
“There is a racial disparity in what happens to people once they are arrested,” said Williams, who got 40 percent of the Black votes in 2012. “I see a culture of favoritism. Too many people for the same crime get a slap on the wrist. It’s who you are and what you look like. That offended me.”
In addition to being a former statewide prosecutor, Williams was an assistant state attorney general. He also was inspector general for several state agencies.
Being the lone Republican candidate in the state attorney race, Williams will not be in this month’s primary. He expressed confidence that he could improve his last showing against whoever emerges from the Democratic primary involving Desmond and Campbell.
“I’m building on that 49 percent (in 2012) right now,” Williams said, adding that his message is resonating with voters. “The state attorney is about fairness, competence and professionalism; treating every case the same with consistency.”