Born October 9, 1949
Takoma Park, Maryland
Elected City Council Member November 1993
Re-elected 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005
Elected Mayor Pro Tem by the Council for much of tenure
Elected Mayor 2007
Bruce Williams is accompanied by his partner, Geoffrey Burkhart in this photograph. They have lived in Takoma Park since 1980. Williams is a building contractor.
Interview with Bruce Williams for Out and Elected in the USA
Q: What is Mayor Pro Temp?
A: That is the Mayor when the Mayor is absent, and is appointed by the Mayor.
Q: Though your office is non-partisan, you are a gay Democrat. Does that mean you are a liberal?
A: I generally think of myself as liberal, on the other hand, my constituency is probably more liberal than I am – Takoma Park is probably more liberal than I am – and I would not necessarily have thought that, but there have been times when I’ve done things and I’ve thought, “You know, I’m more conservative on this, and I’m aligning myself on my vote with my Republican colleague.” We kind of think alike on some things.
As an example, and I’m sure there are better ones, it came up that people were erecting basketball hoops in the public ride-of-way. Basically on the street in front of their house, like at the end of their driveway. I ended up being the only one who voted to not allow them to continue to do that. I basically said, “I don’t want to be in a position of saying I told you so when some kid gets run over playing basketball in the street.”
People said things like, “Well, in big cities people play in the street all the time,” and, “We don’t have enough basketball courts and people are feeling like they don’t want to send their kids across busy streets to various play grounds, so they want them to play close to home where they can keep an eye on ‘em and it’s a neighborhood so that should be encouraged…”
But my feeling was, “OK, have them play in the basketball court in the driveway. If they don’t have a driveway, a neighbor’s driveway. Something – but they should not be in the street.”
As it turned out everybody else felt that, “No, we have to allow people to do this, we can’t be restrictive like that, the streets are for everybody…”
And I said, “No. The streets are for cars.” I end up sometimes feeling a little curmudgeonly.
Q: How has your being openly gay played out?
A: It’s played into it nicely in that my usual experience is that whenever there is an issue with a gay aspect to it I have colleagues who say, “You don’t always get to be the sponsor of that one. We want you to share it with us, we want to show support, we want to be the sponsor this year.” Whether it be a proclamation for Gay Pride or when we had situation where the city newsletter was hand-delivered to everyone in the city by the Boy Scout troop. It wasn’t working out logistically – there were a lot of people who weren’t getting it – and so we were talking about the logistics of that and one of my colleagues said, “You know, there is another reason that we should change how we’re doing this. We shouldn’t be supporting the Boy Scouts.” We talked to the local troop and they said, “We don’t agree with the national (BSA), we have a different policy (regarding gays). But, we understand how you need to take that stand against the national.”
One of my favorite stories is that when I was elected the first time, there were a number of local media that wanted to do the story. One of them was a television reporter. He came around and interviewed me and said, “Can we talk to some of your constituents?” So, I called up a constituent and said, “Are you home? The press wants to come talk and they’re bringing a camera.” Well, we talked for a while, and while we were talking somebody else who was a businessman across the street said, “Hey! Congratulations!” And the Reporter said, “Can I talk to you? What about the fact that he is the first openly gay elected official in Maryland?” He said, “Oh, I didn’t know that. That was never an issue. He has been involved in everything, I know him from five other connections, but not that one. It’s no big deal.” And then they started down the street knocking on doors. There was one woman that came out in curlers and a baby on her hip and answered the door, and they asked what her reaction was, and she basically said, “What’s the big deal?” The only negative reaction that I heard second hand was of somebody before the election who said something to a neighbor about the fact that the neighbor had one of my signs in his yard. The guy who had the sign in the yard was a long-time resident, a volunteer fireman and a registered Republican. The person said, “Are you supporting that guy?” And my neighbor said, “I support anybody who wants to run for local office and take on the work and do the job – sure I support him.”
For information on a touring exhibit version of Out and Elected in the USA: 1974-2004, contact Ron Schlittler at email@example.com.