Wants to build on local successes
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
For Florida House of Representatives District 26 Democratic candidate Percy Williamson, a Daytona Beach native, a phone call in 2002 from Daytona Times founder Charles W. Cherry, Sr. changed the direction of his life.
“Mr. Cherry was city commissioner for Zone 6 when he called me and told me that he and Commissioner Yvonne Scarlett-Golden wanted me to come back home and help move the city forward,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Daytona Times.
At the time, Williamson had decades of banking industry experience after having worked in New Orleans and Jacksonville. He came to Daytona Beach with the expectation of staying only three years.
Longer than anticipated
But three years became 14. He retired late last year after a successful career as the director of Leisure Services, one of the city’s largest and most active departments.
During his tenure, he was responsible for managing Peabody Auditorium, Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Municipal Stadium, the Bandshell, and all of the city’s community centers, parks and golf courses, as well as the city’s various special events during the year.
He was a key player in the demolition of the old Cypress Street recreational complex and the design, funding and construction of the Midtown Cultural & Educational Center, the Cypress Aquatic Center and the Yvonne Scarlett Golden Cultural & Educational Center.
In 2010, he created the Mayor’s Backpack Giveaway under then-Mayor Glenn Ritchie by bringing in Pepsi and Walmart corporate sponsorships. In 2014, he created the Youth Employment for Summer program that gave first summer jobs to middle and high school kids, also with corporate financial support.
Bringing varied interests together
Williamson is especially proud of the part he played in the turbulent years of Black College Reunion (BCR), and most recently in the consolidated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee that held its first countywide celebration this year.
With regard to BCR, he formed and led the Collegiate Events Task Force that included representatives from the local chamber of commerce, hotels, municipalities, local and county law enforcement and community groups to manage a situation that was called “unmanageable,” he remembered.
“Black students were being ticketed and arrested. They weren’t allowed to use restrooms on the beachside. Hotels were jacking up prices. Groups of students weren’t allowed to go in stores together.
“All they wanted to do was cruise and show off their tricked-out vehicles. We changed the traffic pattern so they could do so. We brought Black Entertainment TV in to take traffic off the beachside. We helped put together Mayor Scarlett-Golden’s “It’s All About Respect” campaign to encourage them to follow the law.
“I was able to get the task force to work together. We all focused on getting students to spend their money here, obey the laws, enjoy themselves, and then leave Daytona and arrive back home safely.”
Looking for awhile
Earlier this year, he entered the contest for the Volusia County Council at-large seat. He would have faced Daytona Beach Community Relations Manager Dr. L. Ronald Durham and former Volusia County sheriff Ben Johnson for the County Council seat vacated by Joyce Cusack, who is term-limited and can’t run for reelection.
“I have been looking at the leadership in (the District 26) seat for the past 10 years. I think we need to send someone with more aggressive leadership. The networks that I have are on a statewide level would benefit more people by me being able to get things done at a state level.”
Consequently, Williamson “redirected the campaign” away from the Volusia County Council to the state House of Representatives.
District 26 includes DeLand, Daytona, South Daytona, Holly Hill, and part of Orange City.
Appropriate ‘skill set’
“One of the primary reasons why is that looking at my particular skill set and what the issues are, I am better suited for Tallahassee,” Williamson explained. Working across party lines is something Williamson believes that he can do.
“The division between Republicans and Democrats is significant. Republicans have the majority in our state legislative branch. You need to be able to work across the aisle to get things done.”
Before returning to Daytona, Williamson was former state manager of Bank of America’s Community Development Finance Group that specialized in funding community projects around the state “from Pensacola to Key West, and everyplace in between.
“I made a lot of contacts throughout the state that exist to this day,” he said.
Bringing money back
He wants to bring back what he calls “Volusia County’s fair share” of tax money back to the area, especially to increase funding for education.
“District 26 is in Volusia County, a ‘donor county.’ We send more sales tax to Tallahassee than we get back. We’re actually penalized with our special events, because they swell our tax dollars, which then go to Tallahassee. That needs to be changed. The larger cities don’t want that to happen because they are getting more.
“We need to focus on our schools. The school district’s budget is tied to Tallahassee. The governor pledged $400 million for school safety. Our county needs $4 million, but we only got $2 million. We also need to address vocational education because not everyone is ready for college,” said Williamson.
B-CU remains private
“I want to make sure the legacy and dream of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune is still alive, well and available for the future. Others want to pass a bill putting Bethune-Cookman under the state university system. I am 100-percent against that.”
Williamson also wants to improve infrastructure using tax dollars.
He explained, “Growth is happening in Daytona Beach and Volusia County. People have figured that this area is right for growth as property values have remained consistently low. Businesses are giving us a second look. We have a large contingency of colleges which provide a steady workforce.
“We need that growth to be distributed equally. Unfortunately, not much has been put in Daytona Beach’s Black community. We need infrastructure. Ours can’t hold.”
Making decisions locally
In addition, Williamson wants to get back to “home rule.”
He explained, “The state wants to take decision-making away from the municipalities and have all the decisions made in Tallahassee. Could you imagine that? That is what makes our cities what they are.
“Daytona is interesting and special. It has a distinct tradition and culture. Other municipalities have distinct cultures and traditions, too.”
Williamson made the announcement inside the multi-purpose room at the Midtown Center at 925 George W. Engram Boulevard with supporters and the Senior Oasis program’s regular meeting on Tuesday morning.
“The reason I made the announcement here is because the Senior Oasis program is significant. I started the program at the Dickerson Center in 2006 after a conversation with two senior citizens. There are now four chapters with 400 people.
“It’s a place where seniors can socialize, mingle and enjoy activities. This building is also an important place where we often come together and fellowship and enjoy various activities in the community,” noted Williamson.
Check the record
Williamson feels the time is right and that he is the best man for the job.
“I’m not your typical or status-quo candidate. If I wanted a career in politics, I would have run years ago. I’m retired and have no other obligations.
“I am asking voters to look at what I’ve done as well as my opponents. Look at what I’ve accomplished in my 14 years of public service and decide for yourselves. I’m asking the voters to make an informed decision on who can represent them better in Tallahassee,” Williamson said.
Looking for input
Williamson says he will take the concerns of the entire county to Tallahassee.
“I am currently on a listening tour meeting with city managers and mayors in District 26. I am listening to their issues that will come up in Tallahassee and looking to work for their concerns there,” added Williamson.
Williamson now challenges incumbent Patrick Henry in the Democratic primary. Mike Cantu, a Republican, and Kyle Baker, a Libertarian, have also filed to run for that post.
Public school student
Williamson came to Daytona Beach from North Carolina as a child, and grew up in the Palmetto Park public housing development, known locally as “PPU.”
He attended Turie T. Small for kindergarten, then Campbell Elementary, Campbell Junior High, Mainland Junior High, and Seabreeze Junior High. He graduated from Seabreeze Senior High in 1974, then Bethune-Cookman College in 1978.
He has three adult children and has been married to Carmen Oliver Williamson for 38 years.
The primary election is Aug. 28. The winners go to the general election on Nov. 6.