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Willie Wilson donates $100K to mayoral campaign, lifting caps for all candidates

Willie Wilson talks to the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board during his 2015 mayoral campaign. | Sun-Times file photo

He has invited fellow mayoral challengers Garry McCarthy and Paul Vallas to his downtown penthouse to talk about going easy on each other, attacking Rahm Emanuel and uniting behind whoever forces the mayor into a runoff.

Yet millionaire businessman Willie Wilson on Wednesday did Emanuel a gigantic favor by making a $100,000 contribution to his own campaign — a donation that lifts the caps on campaign contributions for all candidates in Chicago’s crowded 2019 race for mayor.

“I wanted to make sure that everybody had kind of an even playing field. Open it up and have other people be able to get more money as well. … Then they can be more competitive,” Wilson said.

“I’m doing everything I can do to turn up the heat because he is the worst mayor this city has ever seen. There’s no compassion there.”

Emanuel survived Chicago’s first mayoral runoff after spending a record $24 million, four times more than County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, a relative political unknown.

To win a third term, the mayor probably must set a new fundraising record.

But to raise money quickly in larger chunks, Emanuel would have needed a friendly union or deep-pockets donor to blow the fundraising caps limiting contributions to $5,600 from individuals, $11,100 from corporations, labor organizations and associations and $55,400 from candidate political committees and political action committees.

That’s what happened in 2015, courtesy of William Kelly, who threatened to challenge Emanuel, but never did.

Now, the mayor doesn’t have to worry about who, how or when.

“The mayor can raise as much money as he wants to anytime he gets ready to do so because of the friends he has and the favoritism he has shown,” Wilson said.

“But all the money he has ain’t gonna do him no good. He’s done so wrong for the citizens of Chicago. He doesn’t have the base that he used to have. He closed down schools. He’s been unfair with contracts. He’s raised taxes eight times in the past few years. People have lost their homes. And Laquan McDonald is a major issue. He covered up that situation.”

Emanuel fired McCarthy for becoming a “distraction” after the court-ordered release of a dashcam video of white Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke firing 16 shots at black teenager Laquan McDonald.

One of Wilson’s two meetings with McCarthy was arranged to provide a forum for the fired police superintendent to explain his role in the scandal to nearly 30 black ministers.

“He told me he did all he could. That it was Rahm who covered up this whole situation. … It was Rahm that held it up. I said, `Well, you need to tell your story to the community. Let me get a few people in and you can explain it to them.’ That’s what I did,” Wilson said.

“He had some convincing evidence that Rahm held it up.”

The mayor has emphatically denied keeping the shooting video under wraps to get past the election. But he acknowledged he “added to the suspicion and distrust” by blindly following the city’s long-standing practice of withholding shooting videos to avoid compromising criminal investigations.

In Round One of the 2015 mayoral race, Wilson got 25 percent of the black vote — 10.6 percent overall. That helped force Emanuel into Chicago’s first mayoral runoff.

After a high-profile courtship, including an Emanuel-Wilson meeting at the businessman’s penthouse, Wilson endorsed Garcia in Round 2, citing Garcia’s promise to remove every one of Chicago’s red-light cameras on his first day in office.

This time around, Wilson plans to embrace the idea of an elected school board and also will hammer Emanuel for the avalanche of tax increases needed to solve Chicago’s $36 billion pension crisis and for appointing two disgraced Chicago Public Schools CEOs. One, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, is in prison. The other, Forrest Claypool, was forced out after being exposed as the architect of a “full-blown cover-up.”

As for solving the pension crisis, Wilson proposed legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, adding: “They’re gonna smoke it anyway.”

And he wants to do the polar opposite of what then-Mayor Richard M. Daley famously did to Meigs Field under cover of darkness in March 2003. Wilson wants to tear up the 40-acre park and nature preserve the city spent $9.7 million to build on Northerly Island in favor of re-creating Meigs.

“The citizens didn’t close the airport. It was Mayor Daley who closed it overnight. The citizens didn’t even know it was gonna be closed,” he said, referring to how Daley sent bulldozers to carve X’s in the runway, rendering the airport unusable.

“The park is just sitting there,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a lot of parks in Chicago. If you reopen the airport, you’ll bring in revenue.”

Besides Wilson, Vallas and McCarthy, the crowded field also includes fired Chicago principal Troy LaRaviere and tech entrepreneur Neal Sales-Griffin. County Commissioner Bridget Gainer and Police Board President Lori Lightfoot are also considering entering the race.