By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Did City Council candidate Deron Williams tell enough truth about his 1988 drug-trafficking arrest as a young adult? Williams has said recently that he never tried to hide his troubled youth. You be the judge based on the interview transcript below.
The story about Williams’ felony cocaine conviction had not come to public attention when Williams came to the L.A. Weekly in February for an interview with the editorial board. Members of the Weekly’s interview panel knew nothing about Williams’ past at the time.
In the wide-ranging conversation that is excerpted below, Williams made a point of inserting the narrative of his difficult childhood, but omitted any mention of his problems with the law, even when asked if he’d been able to avoid getting into trouble. That portion – from the start of the interview until the discussion moved to other topics – is transcribed in its entirety, except for a few words that were unintelligible on the tape or omitted because additional confirmation would have been required. Williams returns to the topic of his youth at the end of interview. That portion also is included.
On the issues, Williams staked out political positions substantially similar to Martin Ludlow, the candidate he now faces in the May 20 runoff to represent the 10th City Council District. (Excerpts of an interview with Ludlow were posted on the Weekly Web site in February.) Williams set himself apart from Ludlow based on the continuity of his 14 years of work in the district. Williams also put distance between himself and incumbent Holden, who is leaving office because of term limits. Some of this discussion is excerpted as well. Williams’ entire professional career has been spent working for Holden. He is currently Holden’s top deputy and Holden’s support has been crucial in attracting campaign funding for Williams.
(One factual note: During the interview, Williams recalls that he was 19 when he met City Councilman Holden by chance and began working for him. Williams was actually about 21 years old when this meeting occurred; he was twenty when arrested on the drug charge.)L.A. WEEKLY: Tell us about yourself.DERON WILLIAMS: My name is Deron Williams and I’m running for the 10th Council District. I’ve lived and worked in the district approximately 14 years. I’m raising my family in the district. I shop in the district. I jog in the district. I swim in the district. I have my cleaners in the district. My barbershop is in the district –
The district is my life. But I love what I do. The very first day I started working, I had a passion for serving the public, and I took advantage of it for the last 14 years. That’s what I love doing. And to make it clear, I’m going to be frank. I’m not Nate Holden’s clone. I’m totally different.
What have been your highpoints in working for Nate? What would you want to call our attention to?
Well, he gave me an opportunity in 1988, when I was around 19 years old, to start working on his staff. So I appreciate him giving me the opportunity.Where were you? How did he find you at the age of 19?
Well, at the age of 19, I was literally a young man growing up in South Central Los Angeles. I met him at the corner of Rodeo, at Rite Aid. We had an opportunity to talk. It was Thrifty’s. It is Rite Aid now. We had an opportunity to talk and gave me his card and told me to come down. And met his staff that Monday. And I’ve been on his staff ever since.Well, wait a minute. Did you recognize him?
No, I didn’t know the councilman.So how –
He approached us. He said he appreciated the way we were dressed. He said, you guys are well groomed and you guys are –And what were you doing there so well groomed?
We were in the process of heading to the movies, right at the corner of Coliseum and La Brea, the old Baldwin Hills Theater, and we were, we just happened to stop over at Thrifty’s to get us some gum and things like that. You know when you go to movies you want to take you some gum or something before you get in the movies. So that’s what we did and literally we went down to the movies that night. But we talked to the councilman for about 25, 30 minutes.But he approached you.
He approached us. He sure did. Three young men. I was with three other guys.You go to see a movie and you get a job.
I got a job.That’s not bad.
Yeah, you can’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. But I’ve been employed ever since.Where did you go to high school?
Yes, University of La Verne. Just recently got my bachelor’s.Not an easy place to get to in the afternoon traffic.
On Fridays it was difficult getting there during rush-hour traffic. You’re normally on the freeway for hours. If I leave work around five it took me about an hour and a half to get there.What’s your B.A. in?
Organizational management.So you got that in 2002?
I’m receiving it now.Meaning that you’re just completing your course work?
I just completed it. Yes.Have you worked for Nate since 1988?
1988. Yes.What has been your range of duties for him?
Well, I started out, as I stated, in 1988, removing trash and graffiti from the streets and from the walls.Literally, or arranging to have it removed?
Literally, every single day. That was my job. That was my actual job every day. See, I wasn’t –So he had someone in the council office employed to physically remove graffiti?
Yes. That’s where I first came in. I came in as a young man from South Central Los Angeles. I grew up in a broken home. I didn’t have a mother or a father literally in the household. My dad actually left home. I didn’t really know him, period. My mom, she used to leave me over at family and friends’ house, whom she hardly knew, from time to time. She used to tell us that she would be back in an hour or two and sometimes she’d go down and get her some potato chips. And it took her sometimes three days. It took her a week, sometimes it took her about a month to come home. We hung in there.So who raised you?
My older sister as well as myself.How much older is your sister?
My sister is four years older.So how did you escape the negative influences of the streets?
Well, it’s difficult to escape the negative influences of the streets when you’re young and you grow up, however –Did you escape?
Yes I did. To a certain extent you can say yes I have. But there’s a lot of peer pressure growing up in the inner city. However, not having someone to really guide me, focus me, my focus was sports. I played baseball, basketball and football ongoing. And on Fridays and Saturdays we had a church in our community . . . where we had an opportunity to go there. And on Wednesday we had Bible studies, and if you went to Bible studies on Wednesday, on Saturday, you had an opportunity to play sports. That actually gave me an opportunity really to focus and structure myself and not get involved in gangs.There must have been somebody who was sort of your moral and ethical guidepost and center. Was it a family member?
I didn’t have that in my family. Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, I chose good things out of people and bad things. You saw a lot of bad in the inner city. But I used to say I liked that person with that – this person is negative, I don’t like that.So you didn’t even have grandparents?
My grandfather, well, he was an alcoholic. He recently passed, but it’s just a long story where it relates to my family history. I could tell some things that happened, but there were some problems there as well.Some coaches or something?
I had some good influences in my life, as I mentioned earlier, individuals that I saw throughout our neighborhood, where I took those positive things and applied them to my life. Literally, they had faults as well, but I didn’t use their faults against them. I just chose the good.How’d you do in school with all this going on in your personal life?
I did great. Through elementary, through high school received about a 2.7 grade-point average. I didn’t have anyone to do homework with me every night. I’d do it myself. My mother and sisters didn’t graduate from school. But –How did your sisters end up?
[In the 39 words of this response Williams characterized the problems his siblings suffered in childhood and adulthood. These details are omitted because Williams’ siblings were not available to verify this account of their lives.]So you have three siblings?
Yes, I’m the youngest . . . Well, I had, uh, no, I don’t want to mention . . .Do you drink at all?
Occasionally, occasionally.Are you scared of having a problem with alcohol?
At a young age I was. I was traumatized by it. I always said when I got older I wouldn’t drink, because I saw a lot of negative influences in my life. At the age of 14 I moved in with my aunt, and she was an alcoholic as well. I was mentally abused. So the environment I grew up in wasn’t [great], but I made sure I hung in and stayed with my children so they can have a positive influence.Was Nate a kind of father figure?
No, we had individuals on our staff, a gentleman by the name of Ira Massey, who passed a couple of years [ago]. He really was the one who actually mentored me, who actually gave me the opportunity to be there for me on a daily basis . . . I’ve learned a lot from working on Councilman Holden’s staff.
¬†[ABOUT NATE HOLDEN AND BERNARD PARKS:]
L.A. WEEKLY:You made a point of saying before we even asked that you’re definitely not Nate Holden. Why do make that point? And more importantly, how are you not Nate Holden? What would you do differently?
DERON WILLIAMS: It’s two-fold. Number one: The reason that I’m not Nate Holden is that I’m Deron Williams. Two different individuals. My goal is hands-on working with the constituents. My goal now, as far as my vision, is making sure, and what we’re spinning off on, is making sure the district is one of the most vibrant, desirable locations in the city of Los Angeles. There’s a lot of things Holden and I disagree on.Such as?
Such as the consent decree, neighborhood councils, senior lead officers, secession.Be more specific.
With the secession, I believed we should have kept the city together. Our district is the heart of the city of Los Angeles. When you take away the heart, you lose everything. I want to make sure our district is staying together. When you talk about senior lead officers – I’ve worked with the senior lead officers from literally day one [on graffiti cleanups and other community efforts]. I’ve built relationships with those senior lead officers.Did Nate oppose the senior lead officers so much, or was it more of an effort to show solidarity with the policies of Chief Bernie Parks?
I don’t know about that. What I can tell you about is what I’ve done. And what I’ve done is make sure that I work closely with the senior lead officers to make sure that the residents are getting the resources they truly need and deserve. When you remove the senior lead officers from working with the community, it doesn’t create that cohesiveness. What I’ve done is work closely with the senior lead officers so that they can make sure resources go to the community. And make sure that residents have the opportunity to know who their senior lead officer is, so that they can build a relationship with them. That’s what it’s all about.
So when you talk about even William Bratton, the [new] chief of police, we’ve got to give the person an opportunity to serve. We have to bring the city together in order to make sure that everyone’s working together. You can’t be divisive and create divisive wedges where our city is suffering right now . . . We need to bring this city together. We need to bring our district together. And we need to do it now . . .What were some other differences with Nate on policy?
He was opposed to the consent decree as well as the Christopher Commission report. Right now our police department morale is low. We need to build the police department to full strength in order for them to resolve the problems throughout the city. The consent decree, where we had to have a federal monitor come monitor the police department, is absurd. We had the Christopher report that was established and we should need to work on that process first, where the city as a whole – we can’t afford, as I mentioned earlier, to continue to lose what we have . . . We must, we must continue to build our city from all levels, from an economic standpoint to a social standpoint.You mean the fact that there had to be a consent decree is absurd, but you support the decree?
Yes, I do. One hundred percent.Do you think Bernie Parks should have been replaced as police chief?
Well there’s time for change. There’s a time for new leadership. As I’ve stated before, I’ve worked with the police department for 14 years. I’ve worked under the Daryl Gates administration, under Willie Williams, then Parks and now Bratton. So I’ve had an opportunity close up to see a lot of chiefs and transitions.That sounded almost like a yes.
The point I’m trying to make is that right now, we need to build on what we have, instead of looking back.Three council members opposed Hahn’s decision to replace Chief Parks. One of them was Nate Holden. How would you have voted?
I wouldn’t have voted just on race. I would have taken a look at what’s important.I realize I’m pushing you toward answering a difficult question.
It’s not a difficult question.But you haven’t answered it yet.
I would have. What I’ve got from the community is that the police department morale was down. The department wanted a change. They wanted someone that could come in with new leadership to take the department to a new level. And I’ve heard from the community that they really wanted the senior lead officers. That they wanted the senior lead officers to work closely with them to get the resources in their respective communities . . . To answer your question, I would have taken a look at it and said, "Mr. Parks, we have to see what we have to do in order to move the city forward." Right now, we’re moving the city forward in a way that Parks is no longer the chief of police. My goal is to make sure the residents of the district get the resources they truly need.In our description of the candidates, when we have to say how they view the Parks situation, we have to recapitulate what you said. So are you saying you can see the justification for new leadership, but you decline to state specifically whether you would have voted for or against keeping Parks? How do we recast that when it is our job to restate what you said?
ANOTHER PANEL MEMBER: How about a simple yes or no answer on Parks?
It’s a tough question. Right now I want to move forward. Right now, we have a new chief of police I want to work closely with . . . My goal and my focus is to move forward and work closely with the residents of our city.[THE CONCLUSION OF THE INTERVIEW:]
L.A. WEEKLY:Who would be good to talk to about you – people who are familiar with your work?
DERON WILLIAMS: My wife. You can talk to [he names his campaign aide who is in the room]. She can tell you things I’ve done.OK. Who else?
You can talk to any and every person in that news release. [He indicates a list of business community supporters.] You can talk to them about some things that I’ve done . . .Who are your heroes?
My heroes? Wow. I really don’t know. I don’t have a hero, to be honest. God is my hero, who I put first in my life.You don’t have any person that you admire?
I don’t have any heroes. If you was raised the way I was raised. Looking at that glass right there. [He points at a glass water pitcher and some plastic cups.] It wasn’t a glass growing up. A glass to me was a mayonnaise jar. A cup to me was a Campbell soup can. So when you talk about a hero, I don’t let people disappoint me, so I don’t get caught up in people. Even I look at them and take their likes and good things. I don’t use men as a guide for my life. I use God.[Do you admire or model yourself after] any elected public officials you’ve known?
I’ve worked with Herb Wesson [at Holden’s office]. He was my boss for several years. He’s sharp. He knows how to get things done. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, she’s sharp. She knows how to get things done. I like Magic Johnson – business savvy.