Bill Perkins, esteemed civil and human rights advocate and former New York City Councilman and State Senator, died at the age of 74. Perkins, a stalwart of Harlem politics, was recognized for his enduring commitment to his community and his unyielding advocacy for the marginalized.
Perkins passed away peacefully in his Harlem home, as confirmed by his wife, Pamela Green Perkins, on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. The cause of his death has not been specified.
Known for his tenure on the New York City Council, where he served Harlem’s District 9 from 1998 to 2005 and again from 2017 to 2021, Perkins was also a dedicated State Senator from 2007 to 2017, representing the 30th District in Harlem. His continuous advocacy for social and political justice resonated with his constituents, encapsulating his motto of speaking “truth to power.”
Perkins received national recognition for his strong defense of the Central Park Five in 1989 and his opposition to Donald Trump’s call for the death penalty for the wrongly accused teenagers.
Time magazine cited Perkins as one of the most effective progressive city leaders in the country.
Raised in Harlem, Perkins’ life was marked by his dedication to community service and commitment to education, values instilled by his mother. Perkins graduated from the Collegiate School and later attended Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Throughout his career, Perkins remained an unwavering voice for the less privileged. His landmark success came with the enactment of the Childhood Lead Paint Poisoning Prevention Act of 2004. Other notable accomplishments included his actions to reduce rat infestation, reform the MTA, oppose the U.S. entry into the Iraq war, and his early support for Barack Obama’s presidential bid.
Remembered as a survivor of colon cancer, Perkins advocated strongly for early disease detection programs, especially those targeting childhood diseases, HIV/AIDS, asthma, and maternal mortality.
Assemblywoman Inez Dickens, Yusef Salaam, one of the exonerated Central Park Five, and Assemblyman Al Taylor were among those who paid tribute to Perkins, remembering him as a fierce advocate, champion, and a giant of the Harlem community.
Perkins’ seat on the City Council was later taken up by Kristin Richardson Jordan, whose recent decision to drop her re-election campaign has re-opened the seat once again. Perkins’ passing marks the end of a significant chapter in Harlem’s political history. His legacy of advocacy and social justice will be a guiding beacon for the future leaders of Harlem.