Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson on Wednesday endorsed Paul Vallas in the April 4 mayoral runoff, citing concerns that Brandon Johnson would defund the Chicago Police Department and impose a series of tax increases that would drive businesses and jobs out of Chicago.
Over the years, Johnson has called defunding the police a “goal,” not a political slogan. He has steered clear of the term during a mayoral campaign dominated by the rise in violent crime.
Wilson said he “wasn’t fooled.”
He argued that Johnson’s refusal to commit to filling 1,700 CPD vacancies or fully funding the department’s $1.94 billion budget speaks volumes.
So does Johnson’s plan to cut at least $150 million from the police budget by increasing the number of rank-and-file officers assigned to each police chief and launching an efficiency audit of the CPD to identify even more savings. Johnson’s plan to promote 200 detectives would also create 200 additional vacancies that may not be filled, Wilson said.
“Politicians change their minds when they see the wind blowing another way. But I listened to him. I was in all the debates with him. I’m not fooled at all,” Wilson said of Johnson. “He would defund the police. If you defund the police, how are they supposed to do their job?”
If Johnson is elected, Wilson said he fears CPD officers “will feel like they don’t have support,” and “crime will be tougher.”
Another concern for Wilson and his church-based constituency is Johnson’s $800 million plan to tax the wealthy to help inject $1 billion in new spending on public schools, transportation, housing, health care and job creation.
Johnson has called it “investing in people” and said it is the cornerstone of his anti-violence strategy.
“People are having trouble paying property taxes now. Taxing corporations and small businesses doesn’t make sense because you’re going to drive jobs out of this town. And if you take jobs out of the city, entrepreneurs will also be hurt, Wilson said.
Wilson questioned how Johnson can protect taxpayer interests in negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union when he is a paid organizer for the CTU, even though Johnson is expected to give up that job if elected.
Vallas served as an unpaid adviser to the Fraternal Order of Police at the bargaining table, helping deliver an eight-year police contract that ended the longest labor stalemate in Chicago history.
“Brandon is backed by Toni Preckwinkle and also CTU. That’s a concern. Is he really going to run it himself or is CTU going to run it?” Wilson said.
“These kids who are graduating from these schools right now can’t even read or write. Can’t even tie their shoes. That’s a serious concern to me,” Wilson said. “If they can’t do that now, and it looks like strike every year, how are you going to improve that? What else will happen if CTU gets even more power?”
Four years ago, Wilson won 13 of 18 Black wards, finishing fourth overall with 10.6% of the vote. In the runoff, Lori Lightfoot won all of those wards — sweeping all 50 wards across the city — after Wilson endorsed Lightfoot over 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 any concerns they might have about Lightfoot being gay.
Wilson has called his endorsement of Lightfoot “a hell of a mistake” that will not be repeated with his endorsement of Vallas.
Despite the controversy generated by his comment that criminals should be “hunted down like rabbits”, Wilson’s endorsement was sought after by both candidates.
The millionaire businessman predicted Wednesday that a majority of the 51,595 voters who endorsed him on Feb. 28, most of them African-American, would back Vallas.
If he’s right, that could go a long way toward giving Vallas the 20-25% share of the black vote he needs to win the runoff.
“My constituents are retirees around my age. I am also retired. I’m making this decision from the people who voted for me, said Wilson, 74, who met with both candidates and consulted his supporters on social media and in person before making his decision.
“My endorsement will mean a lot because I have a big following,” Wilson said. “I have been consistent every time I ran for any office in the past. My people usually follow me. Who will decide the next mayor? With all the data and all that, it’s the African-American community. It is the voice that both candidates need.”