Chuck Williams: The Loneliness of the Independent Candidate

Chuck Williams is on the phone. He's just read the article in last week's Metro Pulse about Democrat Randy Walker challenging Republican Stacey Campfield in the 7th state Senate district.

"Did you forget about me?" asks Williams, who is also running for the seat, as an independent.

Pause. Well, he is told, no.

"Oh. So you're just writing me off then, huh?"

Longer pause. Well ... no.

"So I guess you're planning on doing something on me in the future?"

Even longer pause. Well ...

Which is how one finds oneself face to face with Chuck Williams at Pete's Coffee Shop on a chilly Tuesday morning. The 56-year-old city impound lot employee is having a big breakfast, which is actually his supper. He just got off the night shift and is preparing for a day of campaigning.

Say this for Chuck Williams, he is persistent. Conventional wisdom would give a little-known, little-funded, politically-unaffiliated, black resident of Oakwood-Lincoln Park very little chance of winning the huge Senate district, which reaches across West Knoxville all the way to Farragut. But Williams has spent the whole year doggedly showing up at public events, wearing his now stained and faded "Chuck Williams for State Senate" painter's cap, and shaking any hands in sight.

The way he sees it, Walker is an unknown political novice who lives in deep West Knox County and works in Oak Ridge, and Campfield is a controversial figure whose legislative antics have made him widely unpopular. That leaves the field open, Williams figures, for someone to rally the Knoxville city neighborhoods and take a good chunk of the vote.

"My base of support is the African-American community, the Hispanic community, and the urban community," he says. He is unabashed about prioritizing the needs of distressed urban areas—he is a big proponent of the Magnolia corridor plan to re-energize the East Knoxville thoroughfare. And he says that his experience as a self-styled community leader, helping people connect with city and county services, has put him in touch with the needs of his neighbors.

But, like many an independent candidate before him, he feels slighted. First by the local Democratic Party, which he says ignored him after he announced plans to run as a Democrat. And then, repeatedly in subsequent months, by (ahem) the media, which keeps seeming to forget that he's running at all. He was even initially left out of an upcoming 7th Senate District candidate debate at the University of Tennessee. (Date and time were still being worked out as we went to press.)

He acknowledges that one problem with focusing his efforts on city neighborhoods is that "people don't vote in the urban areas." And some of his views, like his sympathy to the needs of illegal immigrants, won't win him many votes outside those areas, in the strongly Republican suburbs. He has also heard the concern from Democrats that any votes he manages to attract in the city will just cut into Walker's total, thereby helping Campfield. But he doesn't care, he says, because "Randy's not going to win this election." He adds, "It's basically a dogfight between myself and Stacey."

Chuck Williams is probably the only man in Knox County who believes that. But if you want to hear him for yourself, he'll be at a candidate forum in Mechanicsville on Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church, 546 College St. Walker also says he plans to attend. Campfield reportedly will not.