DOWNTOWN — Willie Wilson is once again throwing his hat in the ring to become Chicago’s next mayor.
In an expected move, the well-known businessman announced Monday he’ll run for mayor in 2023. Wilson didn’t outline detailed plans during the announcement, instead saying he’ll host town hall meetings over the next several months to hear from Chicagoans about what issues his administration — if elected — should tackle and how.
“My record proves … I care about the people because I put my money where my mouth is,” Wilson said.
Wilson broadly said he’d reduce crime and lower taxes, criticized previous COVID-19 safety measures that temporarily closed churches and praised the Police Department. He took aim at Mayor Lori Lightfoot during his announcement, saying he’d ask her not to run again if the two spoke. He supported her during Lightfoot’s 2019 mayoral race after he dropped out.
“The crime must stop, will stop,” Wilson said. “Me supporting Mayor Lightfoot, I made a mistake. I made a hell of a mistake.”
At another point, Wilson said Lightfoot needs to work on her communication skills.
Taxes must go down, as they’re too high and are running Chicagoans out of the city, Wilson said. He said the city must find ways to reduce taxes and provide economic relief.
Wilson also vowed to make the city’s finances more transparent with independent auditors and to better invest in Latino and Black entrepreneurs.
“I may not know much, but I know business,” Wilson said. “These taxes and stuff don’t fix the problem.”
Wilson praised the Police Department, saying he’d put police officers on the CTA and he’d allow the Police Department to decide “whether to not to take a shot or not.”
Wilson also criticized the state’s COVID-19 safety measure that shut down church gatherings for a short time at the start of the pandemic, saying there needs to be freedom of religion. Wilson was a vocal critic of that policy at the time.
“You should not shut down a church because of COVID-19 when you don’t shut down the marijuana places,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he’d add $5 million to his campaign fund “to start with.”
Wilson made national headlines in recent weeks for hosting gas giveaways in Chicago and the suburbs. He said he gave away $1.2 million at the two events. The giveaways left Chicagoans divided: Some drivers said they appreciated the help as gas prices stay at record highs, while others said the long lines for the giveaways clogged traffic.
But Wilson has a long history of philanthropy. The son of a sharecropper, he grew up in Louisiana and worked from childhood. He moved to Chicago in the ’60s, starting as a worker at McDonald’s before opening his own franchise. His business empire expanded over the years to medical supplies, and he’s made and donated millions.
Wilson lost mayoral elections in 2015 and 2019, getting less than 11 percent of the vote and not making it to the runoff election both times. He also made a failed presidential bid in 2016 and a Senate bid in 2020.
“Did you ever read about how Abraham Lincoln ran 21 times before he became president?” Wilson joked during the announcement. “We’re gonna win it this time. We learned more. We’re persistent.”
Lightfoot has indicated she will run for mayor again, and Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) has announced he’s running. Others are expected to join the race.
Wilson’s political views and affiliations have fluctuated over the years. He has identified as a Democrat and an independent; in 2020, he ran for the Senate under the Willie Wilson party. During the 2016 election, he voted for Donald Trump, though he later said he would not do so again in 2020.
Wilson refused to say who he voted for in 2020 during Monday’s announcement. Asked if Joe Biden is the properly elected president of the United States, he refused to say Monday.
“I have lived all my life in running for office and going with what the result have came out with,” Wilson said. “And I will continue to do that unless I find out for myself differently.”
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