Just months after Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham died in office in 2004, Willie Flood said she wanted to end the “mean spiritedness that has been in City Hall too long.” She often repeated this sentiment as she campaigned to serve out the remainder of her late friend’s term in office. Flood did not win her bid for mayor that year, but following her death last Tuesday she was remembered for the grace and the dignity she brought to her tenure on the Jersey City Council.
Flood died at the age of 72 on April 24 after a long illness that led to her retirement from the council in February 2011. A native of Greensboro, Ala., Flood earned a B.S. in education from Alabama State University before moving to Jersey City in the 1960s.
She began a teaching career at P.S. No. 22 School, now known as the Ercel F. Webb School, and eventually received her MA in guidance. Flood was later appointed as the desegregation coordinator for the Jersey City Public school district. She was also instrumental in the creation Jersey City’s McNair High School, now considered to be one of the top high schools in the state of New Jersey.
Flood said she wanted to end the “mean spiritedness that has been in City Hall too long.”
After Cunningham’s death, Flood was among 11 candidates who ran in a special election to serve out the remainder of his term. She lost the race to Jerramiah T. Healy, who went on to win a full mayoral term in 2005. In 2005, Flood ran on Healy’s slate as one of his City Council at-large candidates. She won the 2005 election and her 2009 reelection bid when she again ran on Healy’s slate.
Last week Mayor Healy praised Flood for her unselfish dedication to the city.
“Willie Flood was a great family person – a mother and wife – but she was also a tireless public servant,” Healy said. ”Whether it was teaching in or leading one of our schools, serving on the governing body of the city, or volunteering on too many boards or causes to name here, she was always unfailingly gracious to all who she encountered and was very much giving of her time. Her family, friends, the entire city, and all who knew her have sustained a great loss and will long remember her.”
Flood, who was married to Phillip Flood Sr., had three sons, John, Todd, and Phillip Jr.
In 2008 Flood considered leaving public office after getting caught in a political scandal involving her son Phillip. The councilwoman was heavily criticized by some for hiring her son to be her City Council aide – a job that reportedly paid between $15,000 and $17,000 – and to be a research analyst in the Office of the Hudson County Registrar, a position that paid $38,000. The elder Flood was at the time the County Registrar. New Jersey also charged the junior Flood for illegally collecting $13,000 in unemployment benefits. He was forced to repay the money.
Despite the flap Flood maintained the respect of most of her colleagues on the council. Forrest Street, between Bergen Avenue and MLK Drive is now also known as Willie L. Flood Way thanks to an ordinance passed last November by the City Council.
“Willie Flood always conducted herself with a lot of dignity and grace and poise,” Councilwoman Viola Richardson recalled of Flood. Richardson currently holds Flood’s old seat on the council. “It was a real honor to have served with her.”
A viewing was scheduled to be held at press time Friday with funeral services scheduled for April 28.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.