Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson said Tuesday he will announce on April 11 whether to reprise his 2019 mayoral campaign against Lori Lightfoot, but insisted his $1.2 million gas giveaway was not a vote-buying prelude to it.
Wilson has already held four town hall meetings on a possible mayoral campaign at churches across the city. He sounds like he has already made up his mind to run again and is just waiting until next month to make the official announcement.
The wording of Tuesday’s emailed media advisory fueled that perception. It declared that “humanitarian & businessman Dr. Willie Wilson” would “announce his decision to run for Mayor” at 11 a.m. on Monday, April 11 at his Wacker Drive penthouse.
Even so, Wilson insisted he has not made up his mind and will use the next two weeks to finalize his decision. He then sent out a second media advisory that said he would announce on April 11 “whether or not” he will run.
Pressed to articulate his bill of particulars against Lightfoot, Wilson said: “Crime is up high. Way too high. You’ve got to get it down. You’ve got to get a hold of it. Crime is the No. 1 issue. … We have to do something about this crime because it affects all of us.” People, he noted, are “leaving the city.”
He also talked about what he viewed as Lightfoot’s heavy-handed leadership during the pandemic and the unilateral decisions she made to twice shut down restaurants and bars to indoor patrons without consulting the people she was elected to lead and the business people whose livelihoods she was impacting.
“You can’t just close these things down when a lot of people were going out of business. … You have to talk to people because their livelihoods are on the line. Their whole family is on the line,” Wilson said.
“I would have made my rounds with my town hall meetings — quickly. And I would have gotten the opinion of the people. I would have made sure that we communicated with the people closely and that we made the decision together — not just by myself. I would have gotten my direction and marching orders from the citizens.”
Wilson’s showing in the first round of the 2019 mayoral election — he won 13 of 18 black wards — no doubt was boosted by his charitable giving.
In the runoff that followed, Lightfoot won all of those wards — and all 50 wards citywide — after Wilson endorsed her over County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Wilson’s endorsement of Lightfoot sent a signal to his older, church-based constituency that, as he put it, “contracts and jobs and schools” were more important than their concerns about Lightfoot being a lesbian.
A few months after Lightfoot took office, Wilson expressed his disappointment with Lightfoot, saying he had “no relationship with the mayor at all.” He accused Lightfoot of ignoring his calls and sending him text messages that said she was “too busy running the city to call me back.”
On Tuesday, Wilson disclosed nothing has changed. He continues to be frozen out.
“I would have done things a little differently. Certainly, I would have communicated with a person that had endorsed me and put me into the office,” he said.
Over the last two weeks, Wilson has held two gas giveaways. The first generated massive traffic jams as motorists lined up for hours at 10 locations to get $50 worth of gas until the $200,000 Wilson had pledged to spend ran out. The second freebie was larger but less chaotic. About four dozen stations — both in the city and in several suburbs — pumped $1 million worth of gas into motorists’ tanks.
If prices at the pump keep rising, Wilson said he is prepared to spend “no less than” $1 million on a third gas giveaway.
But he was downright insulted by the suggestion that the giveaways — after a lifetime of charitable giving — were an attempt to buy votes.
“How could that be if you check my record? Last year, we gave away over $4 million to people that were sleeping on the street, the churches, the face masks — not only in Chicago but around the country. Hurricane Katrina, things of that nature. We’ve been giving … into the millions of dollars every year for the last 20 odd years — or 30,” he said.
As for Lightfoot’s stalled plan to temporarily roll back the 3-cents-a-gallon increase in the city’s gasoline tax that she got passed in 2020, Wilson said it’s nowhere good enough.
He wants the city to get rid of its entire 8-cents-per-gallon gas tax for the remainder of the year or until prices at the pump start to fall.
Never mind that the tax generates $64.9 million yearly for snow removal, street pavement, bridge maintenance, and related personnel costs.