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Felicia Williams pulled a fast one on her supporters soon after she was elected to the Pasadena City Council in 2020.

In 2019, when she filed to run for the District 2 seat, she was a registered Democrat. During her campaign, she vigorously sought – and obtained – endorsements by the major Democratic organizations, including the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, Arroyo Democratic Club, and Democrats of the Pasadena Foothills as well as ACT, the liberal civic group. Democratic Congressmembers Adam Schiff and Judy Chu endorsed her, as did Assemblymember Chris Holden.

Williams won the Council seat on March 3, 2020 with 52% of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off in November. She was sworn in on December 7 that year. But unbeknownst to her supporters, she changed her registration from Democrat to No-Party-Preference on November 27, before she served a single day in office.

Officially, City Council seats are nonpartisan, but candidates seek endorsements from the political parties and public officials based on their partisan affiliations. While running for the City Council, Williams touted her Democratic endorsements and told voters she was a Democrat.

Felicia Williams

Felicia Williams

District 2 is a very Democratic district in terms of its votes for candidates for national, state, and local offices. It is also a very liberal district. For example, a scientific poll conducted in 2019 found that Pasadena voters, including those in District 2, overwhelmingly wanted the City Council to adopt two kinds of tenant protection laws. In District 2, 66% of voters said they embraced a law that would limit landlords’ annual rent increases, while 80% supported a law to prevent landlords from evicting tenants without just cause.

In that same poll, 78% of District 2 voters supported a gradual increase of the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

But since serving on the City Council, Williams has been one of its most conservative members, clearly out of sync with the voters in her district.

In early 2021 – as the COVID pandemic was getting worse – Los Angeles, South Pasadena, Glendale and other cities in LA County, along with the County Board of Supervisors, voted to require large supermarket chains to provide additional “hero pay” to essential front-line workers, an idea embraced by President Biden, among others. In Pasadena, it would have covered approximately 2,000 workers for about 30 grocery stores and drug stores owned by major national chains, whose profits steadily increased during the pandemic. Councilmembers Gene Masuda, Andy Wilson, and Tyron Hampton voted against the “hero pay” plan, while Steve Madison, Victor Gordo, John Kennedy, and Jess Rivas voted yes.

Williams was the swing vote. She voted “no,” resulting in a 4-4 vote, thus killing the plan. Her arguments at the Council meeting echoed the key talking points of the California Grocers Association, the industry lobby group. She made no effort to suggest a compromise, such as a smaller hourly pay rate. Instead, she compromised the health and safety of front-line workers who were at high risk during the early stage of the pandemic before vaccines were widely available.

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Registered Democratic before election

Registered Democratic before election

xRegistered No Party Preference after election

xRegistered No Party Preference after election

Nor has Williams been an advocate for police reform. Throughout 2020 and 2021, the nation saw an upsurge of protest over police shootings and growing public opinion in favor of holding police accountable for racial profiling. Many Pasadenans expressed frustration of the persistent abuses of the local police department and sought ways to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

During the 2020 election, one of the key issues was the creation of a Community Police Oversight Commission. By the time Williams took office, the commission was approved but the Council still had not yet appointed its members. Community groups nominated two highly-respected community activists with long track records on the issue – Florence Annang (who works with young people in northwest Pasadena and is a leader of the NAACP and Pasadenans Organizing for Progress) and Juliana Serrano (who then worked at All Saints Church and was also a leader of POP) – to serve on the Commission. The Council’s Public Safety Committee recommended that both Annang and Serrano be appointed to two of the three community slots on the new body. 

At the City Council meeting in April, former City Councilwoman Jacque Robinson-Baisley, Allen Edson of the Pasadena NAACP, Pablo Alvarado of the National Day Laborers Organizing Committee, Ed Washatka and Kim Douglass of POP, Carl Selkin and Anne-Marie Otey of the Social Justice Committee of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, Kris Ockershauser of the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police (CICOPP) and the ACLU, and Rev. Mike Kinman of All Saints Church urged the Council to appoint these two women. Five of the eight Council members voted for both women. Two voted for Annang but not Serrano. Only Williams failed to vote for either Annang or Serrano. Both received enough votes to gain a place on the Civilian Oversight Commission, but without Williams’ support.

Last year, Williams voted to support a law allowing unlimited campaign contributions for local elections in Pasadena. She served on the ad hoc Council committee that opposed a state law that (starting in January 2021) would imposed a $4,900 limit per contributor on political donations. Instead, they wanted to replace it with a no-limits law for Pasadena. When local residents got wind of the ad hoc committee’s recommendation, they mobilized to protest the plan, contacting Council members and speaking out at the City Council meeting last August when the issue was on the agenda. The opposition was so powerful that the Council sent the plan back to a committee. It hasn’t resurfaced since then.

Nor has Williams been a voice for affordable housing. During the 2020 campaign she told voters that she opposed rent control and she has not embraced the current campaign by housing activists to push the city to regulate rents. Last year, she used her Council position to quietly oppose a plan by a highly-reputable non-profit housing developer to purchase and convert the Ramada Inn on Colorado Boulevard, which was for sale, into affordable housing. The project would have required the city government’s approval and County funding. Since the building is in Williams’ district, her opposition nixed the potential deal.

Williams has also been the City Council’s strongest critic of the city’s Public Health Department and its director, Dr. Ying-Ying Goh. In February 2021, Dr. Goh briefed the City Council at a public meeting, explaining that Pasadena was then experiencing a seven-day average of 32 new cases per 100,000 population per day, higher than during the summer surge. She told the Council that it was “imperative” that the Pasadenans “continue to wear masks.” In response, Williams suggested that Pasadena should consider ignoring the state law requiring masks and keeping schools closed until the COVID numbers improved.

At its recent February 14 meeting, the City Council passed a resolution to express its support for reproductive freedom in the face of attacks by the Supreme Court and many states that have sought to limit access to reproductive health care. Council members Steve Madison and Jess Rivas sponsored the resolution. A number of pro-choice activists were dumbfounded that Williams, a former board member of the local Planned Parenthood chapter, remained silent during the discussion, although she eventually voted for it.

A number of people who supported Williams during her election campaign, including several who hosted meetings for her to meet voters, said they were “shocked” and “angry” by her switch away from the Democratic Party and her conservative stances of key issues as a member of the City Council.

“I have no problem with someone who honestly espouses conservative rhetoric. I disagree, of course, but fair enough,” said one liberal Democratic Party activist who endorsed Williams in her 2020 campaign. “We should have a progressive Democrat in that council seat, not someone who claims to be one thing and then secretly is another. She misrepresent herself to win the seat.”

One local Democratic leader suggested that the local Democratic Party clubs retroactively withdraw their endorsements for Williams in light of her decision with turn her back on the party between her election and swearing in.