Willie Wilson speaks candidly at luncheon


Lou Foglia

Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson spoke to supporters during a luncheon at Maggiano’s Banquets, 111 W. Grand Ave.

By Metro Editor

In his thick Louisiana accent, mayoral candidate Willie Wilson addressed a small, mostly black crowd including many clergy on Feb. 5 at Maggiano’s Banquets, 111 W. Grand Ave. He talked of the 2013 Chicago Public School closings, the need to lower taxes and issues within the Chicago Police Department. 

Wilson, 66, who is black, said he is not the “black candidate” in this race, but the best candidate for all citizens, and he referred to white audience members as “whities.”

“To the whities here, I want to let you know, I ain’t prejudiced,” he said.

He called out Chicago’s black aldermen, whom he said slavishly follow Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s lead, and the ministers whom he said have “sold out.”

The luncheon, sponsored by the City Club of Chicago, came one day after the first televised mayoral debate on WTTW-TV this election season. The second televised debate came later that night.

In a hall significantly less packed than usual, a crowd full of lively preachers sat at 15 cleanly set tables topped with breadbaskets and plates of chicken Parmesan. 

Wilson stepped up to the podium and spoke more like a minister than a politician. As he spoke, whoops and hollers of “Amen” and “All right” were heard. He said he had a speech prepared but decided to speak “from the heart.”

“I’m not running because I’m black, or African-American, or colored or a Negro,” he said. “I’m running because I’m the best human being for this job.”

Among the Chicago ministers attending were the Rev. Stephen Thurston of New Covenant Ministry Baptist Church, 754 E. 77th St., president of the National Baptist Convention of America. 

“I just don’t even know how many ministers we have in the door,” observed Jacki Robinson-Ivy, member of the City Club of Chicago, before introducing Wilson. 

Wilson, a self-made millionaire, is fully funding his own campaign. He has attacked his challengers for their fundraising efforts, particularly Emanuel, who has raised almost $30 million in donations since 2010.

Throughout his speech, Wilson stressed that lowering taxes would bring more business to the Chicago area, and the candidate spoke frankly about headline issues such as policing, red light cameras and the location of the Obama Presidential Library. 

He said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy has “got to go” because of the city’s red light cameras, calling the native New Yorker out of touch with the realities of Chicago crime. He added that police officers “make him nervous” and joked about telling his driver to be careful around them. He proposed that the department rid itself of a superintendent altogether and break off into four districts instead. 

Wilson, then specifically addressing the white members of the audience, criticized Emanuel for the 2013 closing of 49 CPS schools, calling the decision ignorant of what many Chicagoans living in dangerous neighborhoods are cognizant of—gang territory.

When the schools closed, the city established the Safe Passage program, which provided routes to guide students through dangerous areas that may house rival gangs.  On the South and West sides, the difference between blocks can be huge. Wilson himself lost a child to gang violence. The program is not safe enough for Wilson, as he proposed reopening the closed schools at the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board’s mayoral debate Jan. 27.

“When you close 50 schools and you talk about education, and I’m talking to the whities right now, you [African-Americans] already know this,” Wilson said. “The mayor has said, ‘I closed schools because of education.’ Education doesn’t mean a thing if you send our kids into gang territory, and they lose a life.”

Wilson added that he thinks the Obama Presidential Library should be placed in Washington Park.

“You’re talking jobs,” Wilson said. “You’ve got a piece of land sitting there, not really bringing what you call economic empowerment contracts … It’s good for the tourists and business as well.”

Wilson apologized for his performance the previous night, explaining that when asked in a rapid-fire series of questions if he gave money to panhandlers, he said “no,” only because he did not know what the word “panhandler” meant. 

In a press conference after Wilson’s speech, he was asked if he thought his voter base was black. Frank Avila, Wilson’s attorney and senior advisor, later leapt in to say Wilson’s support base was “a rainbow,” and accused Emanuel of being hard on minority communities.

“Mr. Wilson has a rainbow campaign,” Avila said. “Rahm Emanuel is not only anti-African-American, but he’s also anti-Hispanic. While he was an advisor to President Clinton, an advisor to President Obama and in Congress, he always fought against immigration. Now he’s Mr. Immigration. So the question is not what percentage my candidate is going to get of the African-American vote, but what he’s going to get of all votes.”