Businessman Willie Wilson, who won 13 Black Wards against Lori Lightfoot in the mayoral primary in 2019, will challenge her again in 2023, sources confirmed to the Chicago Crusader.
Sources close to Wilson said he will make the announcement at a press conference Monday, April 11, at his penthouse along the Chicago River on Wacker Drive.
Those sources say Wilson is 95 percent sure of making another run for mayor in 2023.
According to associates, Wilson has been planning to run against Lightfoot for months. Last December as Lightfoot’s appeal to Black voters continued to erode, Wilson told the Crusader that he planned to run for mayor, but he did not reveal a date for his announcement.
Insiders say Wilson traveled to Florida to put the final touches on his mayoral campaign that will begin this spring.
Wilson in the past several weeks grabbed the spotlight after offering over $1 million in free gas to struggling residents in Chicago and Cook County. While media outlets have focused on massive traffic jams the giveaway created, Blacks and poor residents across the city praised Wilson for his generosity at a time when drivers struggle to pay for high gas prices at the pump.
Wilson’s announcement comes as distrust in City Hall grows as residents vent their frustrations at Mayor Lightfoot’s safety town hall meetings that have been held throughout the city, including the South and West sides. But the announcement comes at time when Chicago’s crime problem in affluent areas and the Mag Mile threatens Lightfoot’s reelection hopes.
Lightfoot hasn’t officially announced her reelection campaign but her political website, Lori Lightfoot for Chicago, includes a message of achieving fairness and inclusion in the city as well as lowering tax burdens on struggling working-class families. The website also includes recent press clippings on her latest moves in the news. The most recent one is a March Fox32 news story on Lightfoot working with the mayor of Warsaw, Poland to help the people of Ukraine (Chicago has the largest Polish population outside Poland).
Earlier this year, former CPS Chief and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he was considering running for Chicago mayor but ruled out a bid last month.
Wilson in recent years has been accused by critics and the political establishment of trying to “buy” votes, but the attacks led to a backlash from his supporters. Many Blacks view Wilson as an outsider and leader for disenfranchised voters whose needs have been overlooked by the political establishment.
On Wednesday, March 25, Wilson gave away $1 million in free gas at 50 gas stations in Chicago and Cook County. A week later, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the city will give away free $150 gas cards and $50 CTA cards to eligible residents. The gas cards will be given to 50,000 drivers and up to 100,000 CTA riders.
Applications for the cards will be accepted starting April 27.
The decision is part of the city’s $12.5 million Chicago Moves program to help residents with inflation and high gas prices.
Questions remain whether Mayor Lightfoot’s gas card is a political move in response to Wilson’s gas giveaway.
In 2019, Wilson stunned his opponents by winning 13 of 18 Black Chicago wards in the mayoral primary that included opponents Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Lightfoot didn’t win a single Black ward in the primary but defeated Preckwinkle in the runoff elections after sweeping all 50 wards.
Many Blacks voted for Lightfoot out of a strong dislike for Preckwinkle. When she entered the mayoral race, many Black residents did not know Lightfoot, a native of Massillon, Ohio, and a resident of Logan Square on the city’s North Side. A lesbian in an interracial marriage, she served as president of Chicago Police Board before she was elected as the city’s first Black female mayor.
Because of her race and sexual orientation, Lightfoot was viewed as a progressive mayor when she took office. Through her $1.4 billion INVEST/South West Chicago initiative, millions of dollars have been made available to small businesses on the South and West sides, but business owners are struggling to become eligible for assistance.
Lightfoot’s popularity was high at the start of the pandemic when her tough approach to enforcing the city and state’s stay-at-home order drew praise from residents across the city. When health data showed that the coronavirus disproportionally affected Chicago’s Black residents, Lightfoot created a task force to address longstanding systemic disparities in health care among minorities.
In the past year, many Black and progressive voters have grown disillusioned with her leadership. During her campaign for mayor, Lightfoot promised to reopen the mental health clinics Rahm Emanuel closed. She also expressed support for an elected school board.
When she took office, Lightfoot broke those promises. During the George Floyd protests in 2020, she drew heavy criticism when many Black businesses were looted in the presence of Chicago police officers. At the same time, Lightfoot raised bridges in downtown Chicago and had the National Guard and Chicago police to protect businesses in the Loop.
When CBS2 Chicago broke the story of the wrongful police raid at the home of Anjanette Young, Lightfoot’s administration fought unsuccessfully to block the news station from airing the footage. After the story aired, Lightfoot initially said she was unaware of the raid but a day later admitted her staff had alerted her to the raid via email a year earlier. An independent review of the handling of the case revealed Lightfoot’s administration showed no malicious intent to mislead or hide or deceive the public.
In the city’s efforts to remap the city’s 50 wards, Lightfoot remained quiet as the Chicago Black Caucus feuded with the Latino Caucus, which wanted to take away two Black wards and add two Latino ones based on the 2020 census population. That dispute is likely headed towards a referendum for voters to decide in the June 28 Primary.
When Alderman David Moore proposed to rename Lake Shore Drive after Chicago founder Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, Lightfoot in 2021 opposed the idea, but the ordinance passed anyway.
A combative figure, Lightfoot once told Black aldermen, “Don’t ask me for sh—” and many listeners on radio station WVON criticized her highly publicized confrontation with Alderman Jeanette Taylor (20th) ward.
On Monday, April 4, Lightfoot announced a new Home and Business Protection Rebate Program that will pay for the costs of security cameras for Chicago business owners. The assistance includes one year of cloud storage for video footage, outdoor motion sensor lighting, and vehicle GPS trackers.
Lightfoot said Chicago police will not have direct access to the security cameras and will not obtain video footage without the owner’s consent.
Lightfoot’s initiative also includes a fundraising kickoff for what she calls the largest gun-turn-in program in Chicago’s history.
The program also includes an expansion of block clubs in neighborhoods where residents will be able to request resources from the city to support expansion or development of block clubs.
“Through these bold new initiatives, all of our residents can play a critical role in keeping our communities safe,” said Mayor Lightfoot.
“By increasing visibility on our blocks through lights and cameras and getting guns out of the hands of dangerous people, we will empower residents with the necessary tools to build a safer city for us all. I encourage our residents to take advantage of these initiatives and join us in improving community safety across our great city.”