Philly Sheriff Rochelle Bilal hits tones of leadership, accountability in reelection bid
Bilal announced her reelection campaign for Sheriff at the Guardian Civic League, a police organization representing Black officers, where she is President.
On Tuesday, Feb. 14, Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal announced her intentions to seek reelection for her current post and touted accomplishments during her term amid growing calls for eliminating the office altogether.
Bilal, surrounded by friends, family — and some of the city’s notable politicos — pitched a second term that would continue current efforts, such as reaching into communities, operational efficiency, and putting an end to “bad practices.”
“There has been an unprecedented, and I mean unprecedented, cooperation between city agencies. In the past administration, investigations would take years due to obstruction and other measures, which do not occur under this administration,” said Bilal in her opening remarks.
“Day one of my administration, we have been committed to identifying and rooting out problems and working to identify solutions,” she continued.
The launch was a blend of symbolism and record. Speaking from a pulpit surrounded by portraiture, Bilal’s campaign manager, Emmanuel Bussie, referred to the Sheriff as an “activist” and “disruptor” shaking the status quo.
When Bilal stepped to the podium, she drew parallels between previous leadership and how it stacked up next to her term.
“Prior to me, a lot of people didn't know anything about the Sheriff's office,” said Bilal.
She boasted efforts to tap into the community and provide education about the Sheriff’s duties, in addition to holding informational events around the city, according to her remarks.
Further, Bilal reported a “record number” of firearms retrieved through the state’s Abuse Order Enforcement, a recent law that authorizes courts to prohibit domestic abusers from retaining weapons while they are subject to temporary protection orders.
In contrast to her predecessor, Jewell Williams, firearm recovery had been at a record low.
“I'm gonna do everything to change that office,” said Bilal. “So when I leave, you will not hear a piece of nothing because policies and procedures are being done.”
Another speaker, Bishop Felton, a Senior Pastor at Mt. Airy Church of God and Christ, conveyed Bilal’s contributions during the coronavirus pandemic, “when we as African Americans could not get tested for the virus, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal partnered with the Black Doctors Consortium so that people can be tested at various sites in our city.”
Indeed, the Sheriff’s Office — by way of the Sheriff herself — conducted a number of testing and food drives for the city’s Black population, which, at the time, was most vulnerable to infection but had less access to pandemic-related resources.
Bilal’s invited speakers also honed on her gender since she is the first woman elected to the Sheriff’s office, “and one who has literally risen from the bottom,” said Bishop Felton.
“We not only believe in Black, we believe in blue, and we will support our officers as they stand for justice and freedom and equity in our great city,” he added.
District Attorney Larry Krasner was also present in the room and delivered remarks that struck a similar chord to Erika Almirón’s city council campaign announcement: consistency.
“She goes into one room. She says ‘a’, [and] they like ‘a’ in that room. She goes to another room where they don't like ‘a’, [and] he still says ‘a’. She actually says the same thing wherever she goes. And it actually is what she believes,” said Krasner, who was “honored” to endorse her reelection.
Mayoral candidate Maria Quiñones Sánchez was also in the room but declined to speak on behalf of Bilal’s campaign. Bussie cited optic concerns and said Quiñones Sánchez’s remarks could go awry and received as an endorsement.
About the Sheriff
Bilal is not without controversy, and her office’s accomplishments are routinely eclipsed by allegations of mismanagement of funds, and waste of taxpayer money, compounded by an overall lack of transparency in internal decision-making.
She ran as a reformer, but her most ardent critics say she has been engulfed in the very controversies she vowed to eradicate. Among just some of the allegations are hiring disgraced former officers, accused — some acquitted — of sexual assault.
Responding to questions about retaining convicted-then-acquitted Michael Paige, who in 2012 was ordered by a jury to pay $165,000 to his accuser for “invasion of (the victim’s) bodily integrity, Bilal said, “he got his job back.”
“He was with the police department for at least nine years. After all that, he was still a police officer. He was still doing his job,” said Bilal. “He decided he wanted to do something different (...), so we stop people who are accused from ever working again?”
Paige earns an annual salary of $100,000 and has reportedly not paid the court’s penalty as of December 2021.
And Bilal, who is blamed by former senior staffers, is facing lawsuits after exposing “alleged wrongdoing,” including financial impropriety and sexual assault.
Asked about the case, Bilal said she wouldn’t “allow you to bully me. I’m not going to allow you to harass me (...) I don’t take too kindly to bullying, so I’m not going to just stand there and take it. People have been taking what people put in a paper bottle and just go on about their business.”
The allegations have made critics question if the office should be abolished altogether. Pressed about the criticism, Bilal pushed back and said, “[the Sheriff’s office] became an issue of being abolished from people who look like me, ran, and got elected for this position.”
“What’s going to take its place?” she asked. “Black and Brown town will be the only county in the state of Pennsylvania without a Sheriff. How does that make any sense? Why does that make any sense?” Bussie interjected.
AL DÍA, additionally, posed questions about administrative overhauls in the Sheriff’s office, and Bilal pointed toward previous management.
“People get mad when they lose the election, and they run out the door and don’t even leave a paper clip,” she said.
“Look at everything and see how you can fix it to be better. They may not have the funds to do this. But I'm a fighter. And so I will fight for what we need to make sure that their office runs efficiently.”