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Who Is Willie Wilson?

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 13, 2015 8:25PM

Willie Wilson
It's been clear as crystal for weeks that Rahm Emanuel is the front runner in the mayoral race, despite low approval ratings and a growing sense of discontent from voters who feel burned by the mayor in his first term. It's also been evident that Ald. Bob Fioretti and Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia are Emanuel's main challengers when the polls open next month.

In recent days, though, a push has been made by a fourth candidate looking to make his presence known to voters and that push has gained traction among local pundits as a possible dark horse campaign that could force Emanuel into an April runoff. Willie Wilson made waves when he donated $1 million of his own money to his campaign fund, which was enough to score him an invite to the five mayoral debates happening in late January and early February.

But who is Willie Wilson, what does he offer voters and should he be taken seriously away from his ability to cut a check to himself? That's what voters will soon discover as the race begins to pick up steam and head into the homestretch.

Here's what we do know about Wilson: born and raised in Louisiana, he moved to the Chicago area in 1965 and worked his way from poverty to became a successful businessman. According to his bio, Wilson became owner of five successful McDonald's franchises. He took his business acumen and founded Omar Supplies, Inc., a company that sells and distributes gloves and cleaning supplies to the foodservice, medical and beauty industries.

Wilson went from having a middle school education to earn doctoral degrees from Mt. Carmel Theological Seminary and Chicago Baptist Institute, and holds an honorary doctorate from Swisher Bible College. He's also a successful telvision producer and created "Singsation," a syndicated Gospel music program, in 1987. (Locally,"Singsation" airs on WGN TV.) He's also battled prostate cancer and lost a son to gang violence.

That rags to riches story is quintessentially American and a feel-good story. But what is Wilson's platform? He's been very unclear on the matter—and that's being generous. During a recent appearance on WGN Radio Wilson said he would fire Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, divide the Police Department's districts into four "quadrants" with their own superintendents, remove 75 percent of police from their squad cars and have them riding public transit as part of his public safety platform.

That's the well-defined portion of Wilson's overall platform. The Tribune editorial board released the answers to a questionnaire they sent to all five mayoral candidates. (The fifth is longtime community activist William "Dock" Walls III.)

Wilson's answers stood out as a steaming mug of hot buttered WOW!! When asked about the issues of underfunded police and firefighters pensions and risky bond swaps the city has engaged in, Wilson offered the same answer: "As a new candidate I have to access the problem with my business expertise."

Wilson also said he supported an elected school board but "unfortunately I have not been involved in the school system and this is a situation that I would have to access once I am in office. No I do not support longer school days nor longer school year and this again access."

Wilson answered he would have to "access the problem" six times in the questionnaire which, in his defense, is still way less than Emanuel's penchant to refer to Chicago as a "world class city."

Wilson's answers were so incomprehensible that an operative for one of the other candidates told Chicagoist he believes Wilson is a plant intended to leech votes. And this being Chicago, that theory isn't far-fetched. But it doesn't matter if Wilson makes sense, let alone show eloquence. At least that's what former state Sen. Rickey Hendon believes. Hendon is the Rasputin behind Wilson's campaign and was instrumental to successful challenges of other mayoral petitions filed by prospective black candidates.

Remember: African-American voters rejected the "consensus black candidate" pandering of James Meeks, Carol Moseley Braun and Danny Davis in the 2011 election and voted for Emanuel, instead. After closing 50 CPS schools, spikes in major crimes in economically depressed neighborhoods and other Emanuel policies that have hurt the community, black voters are pissed at Emanuel and, as Laura Washington noted in a Sun-Times op-ed, race-based politics may play a large part in this election.

Hendon and Wilson sees this as an opportunity to rally the black vote behind Wilson and Hendon believes a scenario exists where Wilson could siphon enough votes to not only force a runoff, but directly challenge Emanuel in April should one occur. Now that Wilson is entering the spotlight, it's possible this plan can backfire unless he's a quick study once the debates roll around.