The mayoral contender shares his thoughts about Mayor Lori Lightfoot and stopping crime.
“Willie Wilson wishes to speak to you ...” a colleague informed me, passing along his phone number.
Geez, I thought. What’s this about? I pondered, and it came to me. Must be the column on predictions, where I say his becoming mayor would be “the worst possible outcome.”
That didn’t bother him. Just the opposite.
“I like that prediction,” he said. The trouble lay elsewhere.
“That picture you did of me. ... That looked bad.”
I apologized. While he was on the line, I felt obligated to pick his brain and started with a question perplexing many Chicagoans:
What’s wrong with Lori Lightfoot?
“She feels that being mayor gives her the authorization to do things on her own,” Wilson replied. “I think she’s got a complex. She’s a dictator, in my opinion. She’s getting all these kickbacks.”
“Kickbacks”? That’s a serious accusation, I told Wilson. Could you elaborate? Kickbacks in the envelopes stuffed with cash sense? That doesn’t seem the mayor’s brand.
No, he said, contributions to her political fund.
“When I say ‘kickback,’ I mean people who do business with the city, that set up these PACs,” he said. “That’s a conflict. They set up a PAC so they can put more than the limit of $1,500. They’re putting $50,000 or more, and she’s taking it.”
I ran this charge by the mayor’s people. Our conversations revolved around a recent Tim Novak expose pointing to the $68,500 Lightfoot accepted from companies belonging to a city lobbyist, Carmen Rossi. Lightfoot’s spokesperson’s reaction, in essence, was: Whoops. That isn’t like us. We gave the dubious money back.
This is where being really rich helps. Wilson says he’ll accept small donations but not the big chunks of change the mayor accepts if nobody calls her on it.
“I wouldn’t take that kind of money,” he said. “I’ve always been giving that kind of money away.”
Why do that, if not to curry political favor? This is his third run for mayor, not forgetting his presidential and senatorial bids.
“I was very poor when I came up, we didn’t have nothing,” he said. “Long as I got enough to take care of myself and my family, I’m about trying to help everybody.”
I asked Wilson what he’d do as mayor.
“I’m going to stop the crime,” he said.
How is he going to do that?
“I had a 20-year-old son shot and killed,” he said — Omar. In 1995, after becoming involved in drugs and gangs. “I’ve got a personal situation against crime.”
I said how sorry I was, and our conversation strayed from there. I couldn’t help but marvel at the contrast: Here Lightfoot won’t talk to me on the record, while Wilson reminds me to hold on to his cell phone number: “Keep my number. You may call me at any time. I will always return your call.”
But I didn’t want to let myself be sweet-talked either. I circled back to this “stopping crime” business. Exactly how?
“You have to have better communication between police officers,” Wilson said. “Take the handcuffs off the police officer and put them on the crook. If a person robs somebody, the police officer can’t chase them. Make sure they can chase. I would back my police officers 1,000 percent.”
Unleashing the police sounds good, which is why politicians say it. But doing so leads to cops committing crimes instead of stopping them, which is how those constraints got there in the first place. Wilson was just warming up, however.
“You’ve got to build a foundation,” he continued, explaining how he would encourage Chicago students to “have a trade, not just a diploma.”
“You can do mechanic work, drive heavy-duty equipment, be a bricklayer, that way you can get a good-paying job. Minimum wage doesn’t do it. Good trade schools will cut crime.”
That’s actually an important piece of the puzzle. By the time I hung up, I wondered whether Wilson doesn’t do himself a disservice with all those gas giveaways — he’s having more this week, by the way. Groceries, too.
The bread and circuses make him seem frivolous. But there is definitely something there. At least he’s not afraid to talk with the press.