Clyde Williams and Mona Sutphen

Clyde Williams and Mona Sutphen

Meet the Harlem-based power couple who's love story began while planning peace in the Middle East

Clyde Williams and Mona Sutphen

The Williams-Sutphens in their Harlem home

still have confidence that I can do it because I know he’s in my corner. Most good relationships are built on mutual trust and respect.  Because we trust each other, we can be vulnerable with each other.  And since we are in similar fields, we can give each other advice and support through the struggles we’re facing because we have an awareness of all of the pressures that the other is under.

EBONY: Speaking of pressure and working in similar fields, you were a house divided during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary season with Mona working for then-Senator Obama and Clyde working for then-Senator Hillary Clinton. That was a very contentious time in the Democratic Party. How did you manage that at home?

CW: It wasn’t contentious for the two of us at all.  It was a very easy decision for me and I'll tell you why. I never would have had an opportunity to play a role in a national campaign if it were not for the Clintons. There’s no way that they could ask me for help and I say no. [On the campaign] when Hillary was up by 40 points, Pete Rouse [an Obama strategist] called and asked me to help out on their campaign. Barack said, “Hillary’s great, but I’m going to win.”  It’s not that I didn’t believe in him and I was always proud of the President. But when my mother died, Hillary Clinton was the second person to call me and her chief of staff Maggie Williams – who’s also a donor to my congressional campaign – was just phenomenal to me. I had to help her.

MS:  My calculus was very simple too. Clyde was very supportive of my decision, though some of my colleagues were very surprised. But I just figured Obama didn't have a whole network behind him like Hillary had and I just wanted to be on his team. I knew he’d be a really good president.

But at the house, we had a zone of silence. We heard each other’s campaign strategy, but we would not let it leave the house, and we didn’t let it get between us.

CW:  Never.  But there’s no way you can have someone who looks like you and goes on to become the President of the United States and not be proud of him.  And I’ve enjoyed working for him [as the former national political director of the Democratic National Committee] and getting to know him on some level.

Looking back, I would’ve never thought that this would be my life. I grew up in southeast D.C. and I know I’ve been able to get where I am not just because of hard work, but also because people took an interest in me and people gave me an opportunity and I try to honor that.  And increasing access to more opportunities for others is what I want to do for this community [in New York’s 13th congressional district] as well. I’m a product of that mindset. I know it works.

EBONY: What is it about this community that made you all want to stay here? Originally, Clyde, you came to work for President Clinton’s foundation that’s based in Harlem, but why stay and why run for Congress here?

CW: Harlem has always held this great mystique for me, from the Langston Hughes poem to the Harlem Renaissance period. The history and the culture definitely brought us to Harlem and the people made us stay. We made a conscious decision to live here and raise our family here.

I've looked around this community and you see change but also decades of unemployment and educational achievement gaps and it makes you think, “Is there a better way?” And when I used to come home and complain about some of the things I’d see in our community, Mona would say, “Why don’t you run [for office] and do something about it?”

You both continue to have awesome careers and pursue individual excellence and individual identities even while maintaining a strong family structure and partnership. How do you manage that?

MS: One thing we do have to manage is who is doing what when. I think it's very difficult for both of us to go 100 miles an hour and still be able to maintain such a strong family structure.  We really take turns based on what opportunities are presented.  When I had the opportunity to be [the first Black female] deputy chief of staff for the President, Clyde was very supportive of that and knew that with the 24-7 nature of the job, he’d be taking up the slack at home and playing a different role with the kids.  But I couldn’t do that while Clyde is running for Congress. That would have hurt the quality of our family life and that’s very important to us. So

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