© 2022 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

From humble beginnings, Perez Williams could make history as first Latina mayor in NY

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
Juanita Perez Williams at campaign headquarters.

This is part of a series looking at each candidate running for mayor of Syracuse. You can find our stories featuring the other candidates for Syracuse mayor at the bottom of this page. 

If elected, Syracuse mayoral candidate Juanita Perez Williams would be the first Latina mayor in New York State. Despite that historic possibility, Perez Williams said her candidacy is about changing the city.

In 2015, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump said when Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. He said, they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists and some, he assumed, are good people. Perez Williams, who is Mexican-American, said she’s been hearing comments like those, her entire life.

“It fueled me to do this," Perez Williams said. "It really starts to make you realize that we’ve come so far, and yet, we still have a country of leadership that marginalizes people to get ahead.”

She grew up in Chula Vista, California, on the border of Tijuana. Her grandparents and her father as a child, were migrant farm workers. Her father didn’t speak English until grade school.

“For him to consider having children, that would go on to college, perhaps be a mayor someday, was unheard of, just like it is for a number of people who come here as immigrants,” Perez Williams said.

She described herself as someone who grew up in poverty, who paid for law school by joining the Navy, who couldn’t rely on her last name to get ahead, and as someone who speaks her mind, sometimes to her detriment. After her military service, she moved to Syracuse and raised four kids.

“What I found was this beautiful city that is so inviting to immigrants," Perez Williams said. "I just love that people are so proud of who they are and where they come from. It’s why I stayed. It’s why my kids are so proud to be Mexican-American, because their friends were proud to be Italians and Irish.”

Her campaign slogan is, 'A Mayor for Everyone,' and she said most of Syracuse's residents, particularly those in poverty, have been left out, have no voice, or have no time to make their voices heard.

“We will never grow, we will never progress and be our full potential, unless we stop leaving behind the future of this city,” Perez Williams said.

She said she hopes in four years, Syracuse will look like a model city of how opportunity can thrive for all.