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Lateefah Williams, the out lesbian former president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s top LGBT political organization, on Thursday officially announced her candidacy to become the District’s next Attorney General.
Williams, 37, becomes the third official candidate in the race for the District’s top law enforcement position, which heretofore was appointed by the mayor rather than elected. Eight members of the D.C. Council voted to delay the attorney general election to 2018, in defiance of a voter-passed referendum that called for an election in 2014, but an appeals court later overturned that measure, fast-tracking the election for this year.
Williams joins criminal defense lawyer and longtime marijuana legalization advocate Paul Zukerberg, a previous Council candidate, and former federal lawyer Edward “Smitty” Smith. Two other candidates, Janai Reed and Mark Tuohey, previously announced intentions to run but later dropped out of the race. According to The Washington Post, insurance litigator Lorie Masters and white-collar defense lawyer Karl Racine are also considering bids. To appear on November’s ballot, all candidates must collect and submit at least 3,000 valid signatures of registered D.C. voters to the Board of Elections by Aug. 6.
Williams, who is also known as a community advocate, a Democratic Party activist, a columnist for The Washington Blade, and aboard member of the Wanda Alston Foundation, which provides housing and support services for homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth, holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. She was granted admission to the bar, or allowed to practice law in a certain jurisdiction, in Maryland beginning in 2003 and the District in 2008.
According to her biography, Williams previously served as counsel to the state senate delegation from Prince George’s County, as well as the political and legislative director for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, the local transit workers’ union; a nonprofit speech rights policy analyst for OMB Watch, now known as the Center for Effective Government; and a law firm associate handling insurance defense, plaintiff-side tort law and family law matters.
In the days prior to her announcement, Williams told Metro Weekly that she had been weighing a run for attorney general but was concerned about the statute setting forth the qualifications for the position, particular a part that says a candidate must have “been actively engaged, for at least 5 of the 10 years immediately preceding the assumption of the position of Attorney General” as a practicing attorney in the District, as a judge, a professor of law in a law school in the District, or an attorney employed in the District by the United States or District government. Williams wrote about the vagueness of this statute – specifically the meaning of what constitutes “actively engaged” – in a column in The Blade, noting that much of her career focused on legislative or policy work. She also documented a confusing back-and-forth between lawyers she sought out for further guidance on the qualifications, including the lawyer for the Board of Elections and the D.C. Council’s general counsel.
Williams told Metro Weekly in an interview that she wanted to ensure that her qualifications were not in question, as she expected that all the candidates’ backgrounds would be scrutinized, and she wanted to prepare for any potential challenge from opponents who might seek to knock her off the ballot, as has been common practice in other races in the District. She also noted that even if she follows the guidance given to her by the both the attorney for Board of Elections and D.C. Council’s general counsel, she could still potentially be challenged, at which point her eligibility for the ballot would be determined by the three-member Board of Elections.
In a press release, Williams addressed the vagueness of the law and the confusion surrounding her eligibility, stating: “Although I sought clarification on the qualifications as an overabundance of caution, I am certain that I am beyond qualified to hold the position of Attorney General based on both the statutory criteria and my vast experience.”
Williams told Metro Weekly that she had been considering entering the race because of her concern for the city’s most vulnerable residents. She said the attorney general’s office hasn’t necessarily represented the interests of residents, rather than simply the interests of the District government. As an example, she cited an ongoing fight between the attorney general’s office and residents of the city’s Ivy City neighborhood, who oppose the city’s plans to create a tour bus depot on the site of a former elementary school that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I have spent my career as a public advocate,” Williams said in a press release issued Thursday. “For me, working in the public interest has not been something to do on the side while I enrich large corporations. Rather, I made a conscious choice to dedicate my career to public service and I believe that as a community-oriented public servant, I am best suited to represent all Washingtonians and protect our most vulnerable residents.”