UPDATE, May 7, 10:30 a.m.: The New York Board of Elections ruled last week that Juanita Perez Williams qualifies for the Democratic primary ballot.
In February, Democratic leaders in New York’s 24th Congressional District chose Dana Balter—a visiting professor and a PhD candidate at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University—as their candidate for U.S. Congress. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) apparently had other ideas: The DCCC recently stepped in to support another candidate who entered the race at the last minute, whose campaign website includes no formal positions on critical issues, and who has promoted erroneous anti-choice propaganda.
As the Intercept reported Saturday, Juanita Perez Williams, a former prosecutor and candidate running for the U.S. House of Representatives, described her personal anti-choice views in a series of private posts to Facebook. “My heart has also been changed for life from the many women I know, both young and old like me, who have suffered greatly from abortion,” she wrote two years ago in a post, according to the publication.
“It is a choice that leaves many with years of suffering,” she claimed. “It is a choice that leaves one with depression, and sadness, and often hurts relationships. I mention this because there is nothing in my pro-life advocacy that even suggests judging or condemnation. I hate that crap! Women suffer with pregnancy and often feel hopeless. This I know! Be good!”
Perez Williams’ claims about abortion perpetuate widely debunked anti-choice falsehoods.
In another post, Perez Williams said she had attended the anti-choice March for Life. She did not dispute the authenticity of the posts to the Intercept.
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In a statement also provided to Rewire.News, Perez Williams vowed that if elected she would protect reproductive rights and claimed her “personal opinions are far more nuanced.”
“I believe 100 percent in a women’s [sic] right to choose and will always defend and protect that right. I further believe that women should have access, funding, and education with regard to their reproductive health and therefore I will advocate for and defend organizations like Planned Parenthood,” she said. “Like many women, my personal beliefs on the issue of choice have been shaped by my life experiences, both as a Hispanic and a Catholic and as a mother and a grandmother. My own personal opinions are far more nuanced then [sic] some people would like you to believe. I will always vote to support the choice of all women.”
Balter is the favorite of voters in the district and won the Democratic designation for Oswego, Cayuga and Wayne counties earlier this year. She was the presumptive nominee until Perez Williams jumped into the race.
Balter’s campaign site highlights health care as “a fundamental human right,” and promotes Medicare-for-All. Her platform includes calls to “guarantee coverage for essential health services that protect our families like maternity care, hospital services, and mental health care” and to “safeguard women’s access to reproductive health care.” She has the support of the Indivisible Project and Zephyr Teachout, who launched a progressive challenge to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in 2014.
In a statement to Rewire.News, Balter said that Perez Williams’ statements were “disturbing.”
“How can we consider electing a Democrat who describes herself as a pro-life advocate? How can we trust that she will stand firmly with choice when she attends Pro-Life rallies, rallies designed to persuade Congress to ban abortion,” said Balter. “Women’s access to abortion is under attack across the country, we need candidates who will unequivocally stand with choice,” she continued. “I am absolutely pro-choice and believe that abortion is a personal decision between a woman, her family, her faith, and her doctor.”
Perez Williams’ campaign site does not include her platform or her positions on various issues. Despite anti-choice claims on her private Facebook page, EMILY’s List, which ostensibly works to elect pro-choice women, endorsed her during her 2017 Syracuse mayoral race. She also attended the EMILY’s List annual gala in Washington, D.C. this week. EMILY’s List did not respond to a request from Rewire.News for comment on Perez Williams’ position by the time of publication.
But an EMILY’s List spokesperson told the Intercept it was “taking a close look at this race.” “Although we do not discuss our internal endorsement process, we do reexamine every candidate with fresh eyes when she pursues a new office and evaluate every race on a case-by-case basis.”
Mark English, chair of the Onondaga County Democratic Committee—the same county from which Perez Williams had run for mayor—told Rewire.News he had “not heard anything about her position” on reproductive rights.
English, speaking before Perez Williams’ social media posts came to light, said reproductive rights “will always be an issue that matters” to voters in his district.
The Democratic National Committee (DNC) supported Perez Williams in her 2017 mayoral bid. DNC Chair Tom Perez called Perez Williams the “embodiment of the American dream.” She lost that election by a landslide. Despite this and the fact that Balter is favored by voters in the district, the DCCC is backing Perez Williams.
Local party officials were dismayed when the DCCC—the arm of the Democratic Party that looks to elect members to the U.S. House of Representatives— jumped into the race in her support.
“The recent DCCC actions in NY24 are unfortunately just the latest example (see PA-7, TX-7, PA-16 & a half dozen others) of not taking into account the work happening at the grassroots this year,” the chairs of the Onondaga, Cayuga, Oswego and Wayne County democratic committees said this month in a joint statement. “From people engaged for the very first time this year, to party and elected officials we stand united behind our designated nominee Dana Balter and against the DC meddling that has hampered far too many races thus far.”
The race made headlines this week when a complaint was filed with the state’s Board of Elections alleging that some signatures collected to get Perez Williams on the ballot were invalid. After she launched her last-minute campaign, she gathered more than 3,200 signatures with help from the DCCC, as the Auburn Citizen reported. Only 1,250 valid signatures are needed to qualify for the ballot. The Board of Elections is reportedly set to decide on the matter on May 3.
The DCCC doubled down on its support of Perez Williams last week, officially adding the candidate to their “Red to Blue” program, which “arms top-tier candidates with organizational and fundraising support.”
The Democratic Party has been embroiled in a visible debate over its values since last spring when high-ranking party members were slated to appear at a rally alongside Heath Mello, a Democratic mayoral candidate with an anti-choice voting record. But Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), who chairs the DCCC, has said support for abortion rights will not be used as a litmus test for its support.
The Democratic primary will be held on June 26. The winner will face Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko in the general election.
This is a developing story. Rewire.News will continue to report as more information emerges.