William “Bill” Saunders, who was long considered the face of Democratic Party politics in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, died of heart failure on Monday. He was 91.
A 30-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, Saunders was a Fort Greene Democratic District Leader for more than a decade before losing to Walter Mosley in 2008.
His extensive community resume included a stint as a top aid to state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Fort Greene). He was also involved with the Bedford-Stuyvesant Youth in Action program and was responsible for getting two retirement homes built in Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Always dressed nattily in a suit, Saunders was considered “one of the few courtly gentlemen in the political process,” said former Assemblyman Roger Green (D–Fort Greene). “He was dedicated to uplifting his community and he was particularly gifted in mobilizing the elderly on the issues that were challenging them.”
Despite his age, Saunders had boundless energy and could always be found at a community meeting or political event.
“He had an amazing sense of history and politics in this borough,” said Olanike Alabi, a female district leader who worked side by side with Saunders. “Even during his last few weeks in the hospital, he wanted to talk politics.”
He loved being district leader so much, his loss to Mosley didn’t deter him continuing to recruit poll workers, one of the duties required of the unpaid, obscure political position, Alabi said.
“He knew election law like the back of his hand and knew every election district in the neighborhood,” remembered Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene), who ran for an open council seat against Saunders — the only time he coveted a legislative office — in 2001. The voters ultimately elected James Davis, who was assassinated inside City Hall by a political rival two years later. “He was a force to reckon with, but all he wanted was respect, something he received from everyone who knew him up to the day he closed his eyes.”
Saunders is survived by his nephew, James Cockerl.
In accordance with Saunders wishes, a funeral will not be held. A memorial service honoring his dedication to the community will be scheduled in the next few weeks.
Expressions of sympathy can be sent to James Cockerl at 1215 Dean St., Brooklyn NY 11216.