Clyde Williams, An Advisor To Clinton And Obama, Is Planning A Run Against Charlie Rangel

HARLEM, N.Y. -- When Clyde Williams was growing up in Washington, D.C., he’d ride past the White House on a city bus and wonder what went on behind its stark white walls.

He and his family never lived in deep poverty, he said — his mother worked a number of jobs to make sure they didn't — but few from his neighborhood, more focused on their survival, ever paid much attention to the White House, let alone dreamed it possible to make it inside.

Years later, Williams would not only make it within those white walls, but at the pleasure of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He was an adviser to President Clinton and later the national political director of the Democratic National Committee under President Obama. It was in the White House's Situation Room where he met his wife, Mona Sutphen, an aide to Clinton and later Obama's deputy chief of staff. (She would be the first African American to hold that position.) The two became one of the most powerful couples in Washington.

One of his greatest memories was putting his mother, who has since died, in a presidential motorcade streaming through the streets of New York City several years ago.

"She loved the idea that I got to do things and see things in a way she didn't," said Williams, 49, on a recent afternoon in a sitting room in his family's home in Harlem, which he shares with his wife and two children, ages 7 and 4. "And my life has surpassed anything that I could have ever thought it would be."

But so far, one opportunity has been missing from his 20-year political career: a run for elected office. And that might change, as Williams is mulling a 2012 bid for Congress — specifically the seat for Harlem's 15th Congressional District.

The heavily Democratic district covers Harlem, parts of the Upper West Side, Washington Heights and swaths of the Bronx and Queens. And it happens to be the seat currently held by the beloved, if not beleaguered, Rep. Charlie Rangel, the 40-plus-year incumbent. Since its creation in 1944, the district has had only two congressmen: Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Rangel.

But Rangel's diminished political stature, and to some degree his age of 81, may have weakened his grip on the district. A House ethics committee found him guilty in 2010 of numerous ethical violations and he was eventually censured. Still, he easily won reelection that same year, an indication of his political power, however fractured.

There's been speculation that Rangel may consider retirement at the end of his current term, and that Harlem Assemblymen Keith L.T. Wright may be his handpicked successor. But as early as last year, as Rangel prepared for the 2010 congressional election, he showed no signs that he was ready to relinquish his seat.

"There is a line of succession, a very long line and a lot of people are on it," Bob Liff, Rangel's spokesman, said at the time. "It's heresy to ever acknowledge that we even talk of this. But there never has been a clear line. I don't think he has groomed a successor. He's not looking to leave, and especially not now.