East Ramapo activist gears up for Town Board race

BY MICHAEL RICONDA

WeldonPhotoShootThursAug1st-17Spring Valley – Rev. Weldon McWilliams IV, PhD, a longtime activist for East Ramapo students, recently gave the Rockland County Times details on his candidacy for the Ramapo Town Board, where he hopes to represent constituents he says are underrepresented in local politics.

“I want to be that voice for the community. Specifically, I want to be that voice for East Ramapo and I want to be that voice for Spring Valley,” said McWilliams, who currently lives in Dutchess County, but has deep roots in Rockland and will move home should he win.

McWilliams announced he would run on the Preserve Rockland ticket, one of several overlapping movements seeking political reform in Ramapo. The constituents McWilliams hopes to reach are currently rallying behind Preserve Ramapo, but he explained a name change was in the works to unify and broaden the scope of the relatively narrow movements.

McWilliams is not alone in his efforts. Preserve Rockland is also running Betty Carmand as a candidate for town board and Mike Parietti for town supervisor. McWilliams also expressed hope that he can work with county executive candidate Ed Day, who won Preserve Ramapo’s endorsement in May.

“I’m looking forward to having many more conversations with Mr. Day to figure out where we have our similarities and where our differences may lie,” McWilliams explained.

At this point, McWilliams has only outlined his broad goals for the campaign, including the creation of a community liaison between the school board and residents. He also hopes to foster trust in East Ramapo by pushing for more diversity and transparency on the school board and the town overall.

“I think that if you have a more diverse board and if it’s more transparent then the community has less of an opportunity to think that something suspicious is going on,” McWilliams argued.

According to McWilliams, his campaign would focus not only on Spring Valley and Hillcrest, where black and Latino constituents are concentrated, but across the broader Town of Ramapo. It would also rely at least in part on grassroots action to reach as many voters as possible.

“There will be grassroots-level organizing and maybe some mainstream-level organizing, but I am a proponent of grassroots organizing and I do see its value in ensuring the grassroots helps get the message out to the rest of the community that may not be as prepared to receive messages in other forms and other ways,” McWilliams explained.

At this point, independent parties continue to petition and Preserve Rockland’s campaigns are in an early phase. After petitions are in, McWilliams plans to meet with Preserve Ramapo to flesh out a more concrete campaign strategy. Still, it is already apparent that the school board is the centerpiece of McWilliams’ campaign.

McWilliams is a Rockland native who lived in Philadelphia for 12 years before moving back to Spring Valley last August, and who has been living in Dutchess County where he is employed by Dutchess Community College, while still being involved in Ramapo issues. McWilliams explained the issue of the East Ramapo School District came up frequently in his conversations with residents and other activists upon his return from Philadelphia.

Since then, McWilliams took his experience as an activist in Philadelphia to Ramapo by helping East Ramapo students organize themselves. McWilliams participated in a student walkout at Spring Valley High School, where he publically read a list of student grievances against the school district.

Given his work in the school district, McWilliams found natural allies with Preserve Ramapo, which has been active in campaigns to change school district administration, and fight overdevelopment and political corruption which they claim favors Ramapo’s Orthodox community over non-Orthodox residents.

“What’s in the best interest of the entire community must be the goal of all those who are going to be members on that board,” McWilliams stressed.

Wake Up Rockland, one of McWilliams’ recent projects, also received attention and provoked controversy with a silent demonstration against racial segregation at the Rockland Kosher Supermarket in Monsey.

Aside from his work in the school district, McWilliams currently holds the title of youth minister at First Baptist Church in Spring Valley and founded Visionaries in Christ Young Adult Ministries, which seeks to prepare young adults for ministry service.

Editor’s Note – election law requires a candidate to move to the home district upon winning their election, but they are merely required to live in New York while running their campaign.