The Crusader Newspaper Group

Willie Wilson’s credibility dropping among Blacks

Dr. Willie Wilson

He was once a revered leader among Chicago’s Black voters. Today, Willie Wilson, the self-made millionaire “People’s Leader” whose cash and gas card give-a-ways won the hearts of thousands of residents, has a credibility problem.

Last week, Wilson angered his Black voter base after he endorsed Paul Vallas for Chicago mayor in the April 4 runoff, over Brandon Johnson.

Many Blacks remain confused as to why Wilson would support a white candidate backed by the Fraternal Order of Police over Johnson, a Cook County Commissioner who is backed by the Chicago Teachers Union.

Now, Johnson and Vallas are in a heated runoff race with Vallas campaigning on the South and West sides for a piece of the Black and Latino vote he needs to win the election. So far, Vallas has won the endorsement of former Secretary of State Jesse White, Aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Raymond Lopez (15th), and now Wilson.

To boost his chances of securing the Black vote, on Sunday evening, March 12, Vallas held a rally at the former Benjamin E. Mays Academy in Englewood. Activist Tio Hardiman was there. A Crusader journalist attempted several times to get Hardiman to say on the record who he is supporting, but he declined.

But sources at the rally told the Crusader that Hardiman was supporting Vallas. On his show on WVON on Monday, March 13, Hardiman had Lopez seemingly as his co-host, but he did not disclose who he was supporting—as many listeners calling in blasted Johnson in his campaign for mayor.

The biggest news happened on March 8, when Wilson announced his endorsement of Vallas, igniting a firestorm among Black voters who supported him at the polls. For three days on Perri Small’s WVON radio show, phone lines were flooded with angry callers saying they felt betrayed by Wilson’s support of Vallas, after they voted for Wilson in the Primary.

One caller, Kevin, said, “I’m so upset. I’m a former Willie Wilson voter but not anymore. I’m so disappointed especially in light of the fact he backed Paul Vallas. The gas give-a-ways, the food give-a-ways. It feels as though it was a ploy to buy the Black vote.”

Another caller, Belinda, called Wilson a “silly clown” and remarked, “I’m glad Willie Wilson is gone. I hope he doesn’t come back and run for anything because he is pitiful, really. He tried to buy his way in. He saw that he couldn’t. He was already a Republican, so no hard feelings. Goodbye and good riddance.”

Johnson finished third in capturing the Black vote. He took 18.35 percent of the Black vote behind Wilson, who finished second to Mayor Lori Lightfoot with 22.64 percent of the Black vote. Vallas finished fourth, taking 12.96 percent of the vote in the city’s 17 Black wards.

There are concerns that Wilson’s endorsement of Vallas will persuade Black voters to support Vallas at the polls. But some Black voters say Wilson’s endorsement will have little to no impact on whom they will support in the mayoral runoff.

Last week, the Crusader reported that Wilson had a meeting with 200 pastors on March 4 at Bishop Larry Trotter’s Sweet Holy Spirit Church. However, the Crusader later confirmed the correct number in attendance was 100 pastors, whose goal that day was to choose a candidate to endorse.

When Wilson asked who would support Johnson, 70 pastors raised their hands. Sources said 30 pastors raised their hands in support of Vallas.

Sources told the Crusader at that point that Wilson told the group there will be more town hall meetings where he can hear from the people before making an endorsement.

But close sources told the Crusader Wilson promised them he would wait until March 15 to make an endorsement. When Wilson made his announcement early, on March 8, sources said some pastors, including Bishop Trotter, felt a sense of betrayal when Wilson moved ahead of them.

Trotter endorsed Wilson in the February 28 Primary. Trotter and Wilson are longtime friends and for years Wilson has helped many struggling Black churches pay their utility bills. His largesse won him the support of many loyal pastors, unwilling to go against his political decisions, according to insiders.

These reliable sources also told the Crusader that before the meeting at Trotter’s church, Wilson already had his mind made up to endorse Vallas and that the meeting was simply a formality. Additional sources said Wilson told some pastors in the group he didn’t want to endorse anyone raising taxes and defunding the police, tactics Johnson’s opponents accused him of having as elements of his platform as a mayoral candidate.

Others close to the situation said many of the pastors learned of Wilson’s decision from the news media. They say Trotter heard of the endorsement while watching a television newscast. That, according to sources, left Bishop Trotter “ticked,” after Wilson broke his promise and left many pastors in the dark during the endorsement process.

After Wilson endorsed Vallas, sources said there was concern Wilson would say publicly the endorsement came from him, Bishop Trotter and the pastors at the meeting. That concern led Bishop Trotter to endorse Johnson before his congregation on Sunday, March 12.

In his endorsement, Trotter called Johnson the “right person” for City Hall.

“He has a plan. And it’s fresh, it’s new. I just think this is an hour we should put the right people — the qualified people and the people who love God — in office,” he said.

On March 13, Wilson in an Op-ed in the Chicago Tribune accused Blacks of injecting race into the mayoral runoff, while accusing Black leaders of shutting him out in a way that left him feeling discriminated against by his own people.

“To inject race as a wedge issue in the mayoral runoff does a disservice to all the progress we have made toward a more perfect union,” Wilson wrote. “It is shameful for Black leaders to suggest that voters should choose a candidate based on skin color. Too much is at stake for our citizens to vote for someone simply based on color.

“Interestingly, all of these Black leaders use race when it suits them. For example, when I ran for U.S. Senate against Senator Dick Durbin, a white man, they overwhelmingly endorsed him over me. When I ran against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the same Black leaders overwhelmingly endorsed him. By their logic, they discriminated against me.”

“These are the same tired Black leaders who have done little to bring safety to the neighborhoods they represent. The neighborhoods with the highest level of homicides are represented by Black leaders.”

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