Mayor Albert T. McWilliams Passes
People who believed in Mayor McWilliams respected him as a man, not a power broker or party operative. His supporters included old-time Plainfielders who refused to be part of the “white flight” of the late 1960s; gay newcomers who saw the city as a special place to live; young people with intelligence and an ambition for positive change; and people of all ethnicities who valued the city’s diversity.
It was this hopeful mix that granted him an unprecedented second mayoral term in 2001. Plainfield’s economy, which McWilliams had likened to a rusty engine, was beginning to turn over. Plans evolved for the long-vacant Park-Madison tract. Enough “New Democrats” won seats on the Democratic City Committee to allow McWilliams to become party chairman in 2003.
As the 2005 primary filing date approached, McWilliams planned to seek a third term. But days before the filing deadline, he was stripped of his ability to choose a party slate. His supporters were still able to form their own slate to vie with the Regular Democratic Organization, but now lacked the campaign funding and organizational backing that the party line would have conferred. Still, starting from scratch, McWilliams lost the primary by 325 votes, or 6.3 percent. Ironically, of those who went to the polls, 345 voters made no mayoral choice in the primary. See Plaintalker’s story here.
When it came out that the Republican line for mayor would be vacant, McWilliams changed parties to run as a “fusion” candidate. But having lost the primary, he could not run in the general election, a judge ruled.
His last day in office was December 31, 2005.
Ray Blanco, who won the citywide at-large council seat in 2004 with McWilliams’ backing, displayed a great passion to improve the city but died in office in August 2006.
Of the seven current council members, a majority came to office initially with the backing of McWilliams supporters. Two ran unopposed for re-election last year and two are up for re-election this year. By and large, they have retained the ideals and enthusiasm that brought them to public office. Their service can be viewed as part of McWilliams’ legacy.
Politics can be cruel in Union County. But the twist of political fate that took place in April 2005 ultimately gave more people a chance to know and appreciate Al McWilliams as a person. This message from Union County Republican Committee Chairman Philip J. Morin III turned up in Plaintalker’s mailbox:
“Former Plainfield Mayor Al McWilliams was a man who cared much more about the people of Plainfield than about politics. He was a man with vision and hope for the City of Plainfield, and he worked tirelessly to make that vision a reality. Plainfield's renaissance is due in large part to his efforts.
On behalf of myself and the Union County Republican Committee, we offer our prayers and condolences to the McWilliams family.”
Plaintalker also offers condolences to the family and to all the people who joined Al McWilliams in seeking the best for Plainfield.