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Willie Wilson won’t abandon his personal brand of philanthropy

Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson shakes hands and takes selfies with people waiting in line for up to $500 in Cook County property tax assistance from the Willie Wilson Foundation on Aug. 1 outside the Cook County treasurer's office. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

It’s no secret that, during election season, everyone has a hand out — from developers to street hustlers.

And it would be naïve to think that politicians up for re-election aren’t trying to mine votes when they pass out those Thanksgiving turkeys, back-to-school supplies and Christmas toys.

So why then are pols outraged that mayoral hopeful Willie Wilson is using his own fortune to help poor people pay their property taxes?

Wilson came under fire after he handed out more than $100,000 in checks to help people in danger of losing their homes.

People lined up at the Cook County Building for checks from the Dr. Willie Wilson Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

At an earlier event in July, Wilson passed out $200,000 in cash and checks at a South Side church. The Illinois State Board of Elections said it didn’t have a problem with the cash giveaway because the money came from Wilson’s non-profit foundation.

Then, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform filed a complaint against Wilson with the state elections board, arguing that Wilson should have reported the $200,000 giveaway as an “in-kind“ political contribution.

Rickey Hendon, a former state senator who is advising Wilson’s campaign, said it is not unusual for Wilson to hand homeless people cash to get them off the street.

“The money he gives on the street is straight out of his pocket,” Hendon said.

He has requested a meeting with the Illinois Coalition for Finance Reform about Wilson’s philanthropy.

“Willie is giving directly to the poor because he knows a lot of the money given to charities goes to administrators,” Hendon said.

Meanwhile, the Chicago City Council put forth a resolution urging the Illinois State Board of Elections and the Chicago Board of Elections to conduct a “thorough investigation into the “cash giveaway.”

Wilson called that “ridiculous.”

“I have been giving money away for years and never asked for a thing or asked people to vote for me,” Wilson told me. “Seventy percent or more of the contracts in Chicago go to Mayor Emanuel’s friends, who then donate to his campaign. Why is nobody talking about that?”

Actually, Garry McCarthy, the former Chicago police superintendent and current mayoral challenger, has accused Emanuel of pay-to-play politics.

“Everybody knows right now that, if you want a city contract, you make a campaign donation to Rahm Emanuel and you get that contract,” McCarthy said in a recent Chicago Sun-Times interview.

The Chicago City Council resolution calls on the Cook County state’s attorney and the attorney general’s office to investigate Wilson’s giveaway. Alds. Joseph A. Moore (49th), Raymond Lopez (15th), Brendan Reilly (42nd) and Michael Scott (24th), signed the resolution, though Scott has withdrawn his name.

“I’m no longer a co-sponsor,“ Scott said. “Although I don’t think it is right to give cash away even if [Wilson] is doing it legally, it doesn’t look and feel right. But I don’t think an African-American male should do that to another African-American male who is trying to help black folks, and I have removed myself from the ordinance.”

Wilson sees a fair amount of hypocrisy in the resolution. “Why didn’t they call for an investigation of the mayor on the Laquan McDonald case? Why didn’t they all for an investigation of the TIF dollars that don’t go to certain areas? They give away turkeys and vote for the mayor.”

He also pointed out that his tax-relief assistance helped people from Maywood, Harvey and Evanston.

“They can’t vote for me,“ he said. “The people that call me have nothing.

“I came up poor, and somebody gave me something. I know how it feels when a woman or a man comes up to me in the street and says, ‘Can you help me get some food to eat?’ ”

On Sunday, Wilson plans to bring his brand of philanthropy to a West Side church where he expects 100 senior citizens to show up because they need food.

“I go around trying to help people keep their homes,“ Wilson said. “Unless I am breaking the law, I won’t stop.”