Takin' the 5th: Peyton Williams wants cousin's job
Campaign workers are meeting in the living room of the house Peyton Williams' great aunt built off JPA in the the 1930s. A reporter and photographer appear. Cars need to be moved so a volunteer can get out of the driveway and make it to an event. In short, it's a bit chaotic.
And as a man who's retired from two different careers, Williams could certainly be taking it easy, rather than trying to take the 5th Congressional District away from the man who holds it now, his second cousin once removed, Robert Hurt.
It was the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, that motivated Williams enough to consider a run for Congress as a Democrat. As did the intransigence of the House of Representatives, he says, which has stalled any significant legislation on topics Americans say they care most about: jobs and the economy.
"Why are you not doing what we elected you to do?" Williams rhetorically asks Cousin Robert, a Republican. "They continue to just say no."
This is Williams' first run for political office, and Hurt is way ahead of him there after Congressional incumbency and several terms in the General Assembly. Williams has had a distinguished career in government nonetheless. A member of the Army's Special Forces, he worked at the Pentagon before retiring in 1999 as a lieutenant colonel, and his second career was serving as a systems engineer for Lockheed Martin.
Before throwing his hat into the ring, Williams was busy as a part-time scuba instructor and a Boy Scouts leader.
At first it looked like Williams was going to have an easy ride to lock up the Democratic nomination. And then another retired military Dem, Brigadier General John Douglass, who had planned to run in the 10th District until his Fauquier County farm was redistricted into the 5th, decided to go for it in the new district.
"John Douglass and I made a pact: We're not going to personally attack each other," says Williams. But he doesn't hesitate to differentiate the two military Dems. "I'm trained as a research scientist, and there are only three in Congress," says Williams, who has two master's degrees, including one in ecology. "They don't have the people needed to explain science, particularly on the environmental side."
Williams also notes his military experience and getting things accomplished through compromise: "I've had to get people into the room to make a plan– even if it's not one that's acceptable to everyone."
Hurt's Chatham base is well-established, but, insists Williams, lest he be seen as an interloper, "We both have deep roots in the Fifth District."
Let's just hope the race doesn't make things awkward at family reunions.
Why here? Charlottesville is such a beautiful place to live. I have lived here since 1974 on and off. My house has been in the family since 1935.
What's worst about living here? Pedestrians jaywalking and bikes without lights or reflectors at night.
Favorite hangout? Any of the restaurants along the Downtown Mall, especially in warmer weather.
Most overrated virtue? Mine or generally? People tell me I’m brave because I have volunteered to go into some tight spots. I don’t feel that I’m all that brave. I just did my job the best I could.
People would be surprised to know: I like eating kimchi– fermented cabbage– though my wife says it smells more like rotten cabbage.
What would you change about yourself? Well, my wife says I’m too cluttered, and I wish I could do a better job with that– both with the clutter and with keeping her happy.
Proudest accomplishment? Probably being in US Army Special Forces. My training and experience has put me in a better position to help people in many ways and allowed me to better understand others.
People find most annoying about you: I can tell some long stories at times.
Whom do you admire? Gandhi, and the way he stood up for his people using peaceful protest and persuasion.
Favorite book? Americans on Everest by James Ullman and The Art of War by Sun Tzu.
Subject that causes you to rant? The Iraq War. I knew who Ahmed Chalabi was because of the work I had been doing on terrorism and I did not understand how our government could listen to a convicted felon who was out for himself.
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Seeing the reaction of my scuba student when an eight-foot hammerhead shark swam 15 feet in front of her. (Wide-eyed, but calm.)
Biggest 21st-century creep out? 9/11
What do you drive? 2003 Subaru, license plate “SKUBARU.”
In your car CD player right now: Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science by Krause. I am not listening to it for the physics, but just because he was such an interesting man.
Next journey? To Florida to learn how to cultivate coral in conjunction with a Venture Scout environmental project.
Most trouble you’ve ever gotten in? With my wife when I went back into the Army instead of becoming a park ranger.
Regret: Not being a better student
Favorite comfort food: Popcorn
Always in your refrigerator: Milk
Must-see TV: As a series, PBS Mystery
Describe a perfect day. Sailing a boat out to a warm water dive site and conducting a fish census underwater. Finding a new fish and showing it to my wife, my favorite dive partner.
Walter Mitty fantasy: Being another Jacques Cousteau.
Who’d play you in the movie? With my white hair, I would go for George Clooney. Besides, I generally like his stand politically. My wife says he is too short to play me.
Most embarrassing moment? Too many for any to stand out.
Best advice you ever got? “To be the best soldier I could be.” Given by my father, an Episcopal minister, when I told him I was enlisting in the Army in 1967. Passed it on to my daughter when she decided to go into the Army. (I wasn’t worried about her being the best.)
Favorite bumper sticker? I’ve got two: the “Coexist” sticker and “Give Blood, Play Rugby”– two different sides of my personality.