Willie Wilson won’t talk about Trump, even though he’s talking like him

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Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Shades of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson said repeatedly Tuesday that he thinks Mayor Rahm Emanuel “should be locked up” for unspecified “white collar crimes.”

Wilson revealed recently that he voted for Trump in the 2016 election, although he no longer is willing to talk about it.

Yet he seemed to be borrowing a page from the Republican president’s campaign playbook with his over-the-top attacks on Emanuel’s character.


Wilson made the remarks in an interview from his 46th floor penthouse site overlooking Lake Michigan, so there were no crowds around to chant, “Lock him up, lock him up!”

Still, that looks like where Wilson is headed.

Wilson noted that Emanuel announced earlier this week that he was making $8.8 million in grants to various organizations and businesses in mostly South and West Side neighborhoods.

Wilson argued that was a misuse of taxpayer dollars, which he lumped together with red-light cameras, contracts and “construction” in his vague indictment of the mayor.

“I think he should be locked up. The mayor of the city of Chicago and all the people who are committing white collar crime should be thoroughly locked up and investigated for taking advantage of the poor.”

I would note that Wilson put a thorough lockup before a thorough investigation, but I believe he misspoke.

Still, he probably meant it when he added: “The keys should be thrown away.”

Emanuel’s campaign declined to respond.

It’s not the first time Wilson has suggested the mayor ought to be locked up, but his renewed enthusiasm for the subject is clearly an outgrowth of failed attempts to get Wilson in trouble for his longstanding practice of handing out money in public.

The State Board of Elections ruled last week that Wilson did not violate state campaign finance laws when he doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and checks at a church event last month in Chatham, where he was accompanied by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform had argued Wilson should at least disclose it as an in-kind contribution to his campaign.

Also, some aldermen introduced a resolution contending Wilson and Rauner should be investigated by the Cook County state’s attorney for a possible felony violation of election law for alleged vote buying.

Wilson blames Emanuel for the perceived effort to gang up on him.

At the same time, Wilson acknowledged that the whole flap has been a huge boon to his campaign by highlighting his past record of charitable giving and making him better recognized.

On Tuesday morning, he was back at it, handing out checks outside the Cook County treasurer’s office to help people pay their property taxes.

For those who don’t think there’s a chance Wilson will be elected mayor, and I would probably put myself in that category, let me quote a guy I ran into Tuesday at City Hall: “That’s what they said about Donald Trump.”

Indeed, Trump has ensured that it will be harder to give the brushoff to long shot candidates such as Wilson who came out of nowhere to claim 11 percent of the vote in the 2015 mayoral election, then decided to run for president.

Wilson got just 6,565 votes in the Illinois Democratic presidential primary in 2016, finishing a distant third with 0.3 percent of the vote. He refused to answer questions about why he later voted for Trump in November and what he thinks of the president’s performance in office.

“That’s not important to me,” he said. “What’s important to me is the crime.”

Wilson noted that the charitable foundation from which he makes many of his donations has recently experienced a problem with someone forging checks on the foundation’s account. About $9,000 has been stolen from the foundation through forgeries, he said.

“Rahm may have something to do with that, too,” Wilson said.

I’m pretty sure he meant it.


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