Abilene’s new mayor, Anthony Williams, was sworn in Monday surrounded by his family and supporters. There has been plenty of celebration lately, but back when he announced his candidacy, the mood wasn’t so optimistic. Many of his family members didn’t think a win was possible.
“I thought that we could do this and at the end of the day we did this,” Williams said. “And I use we very deliberately because we could not have been successful without the team that we assembled.”
Williams relied on a staff of volunteers. He had to be very strategic with his campaign finances because his opponent had twice as much money to work with. According to campaign finance reports, Williams and Robert O. Briley almost tied in their fundraising but Briley added an additional 70,000 of his own money to his campaign.
“I am happy personally but I truly believe that the victory represents things beyond Anthony Williams, that really has implications on our entire community and that is that the average guy, the average Abilenian can be mayor of Abilene,” Williams said.
It can be hard to get voters to turn out for a runoff, especially in the summer. But this election was different. People were so eager to vote that there was actually a higher voter turnout at the runoff than the general election. It’s been at least two decades since that has happened in Taylor County, according to Taylor County Elections Administrator Freda Regan.
“I believe most of those folk were motivated to get out and vote for me,” Williams said. “And I attribute that to our hard work. We actually contacted 20,000 registered voters. We had an outstanding ground game with 50 volunteers and we focused very intentionally on certain precincts to drive that turn out.”
Social media really helped him get his message out, but his most effective method of reaching voters was more traditional.
“We didn’t abandon old-fashioned campaigning, going door to door and meeting someone where they live and trying to articulate why we had the better campaign and why I was the better candidate,” Williams said.
Williams will be Abilene’s first African-American mayor. He’s the first minority to be elected mayor in the city’s 136-year history.
“Just like other Texans, I’m proud to be a Texan, as an African-American, I’m proud of my heritage but I really want to focus more broadly on our community and focus on those things that we have in common,” Williams said.
He wants to keep the conversation focused on making Abilene better, but he knows the significance of this milestone.
“I’ll say this, my dad was not here when I was a child, raised by mother and assisted by my great-grandfather in Anson, Texas who lived through Jim Crow, who had to pay a poll tax, take an aptitude test,” Williams said. “My mother tells a time when she woke up and found a burning cross in her front yard. My grandfather, John Cravens if he was alive, would be very very proud of me and us.”