The Sun-Times Editorial Board sent mayoral candidates a list of questions to find out their views on a range of issues facing the city. Willie Wilson submitted the following responses Dec. 24 (the Sun-Times does not edit candidate responses):
Who is Willie L. Wilson?
His political/civic background: Entrepreneur, philanthropist, special cause activist who sponsored the work leading to the passage of 2 Illinois laws and one Governor’s Executive Order
His occupation: Chainrmain, Governor’s Task Force on Fair Practices in Contrcting, Chairman of the Board of Omar, Inc and Chairman of the Board of Chicago Baptist Institute
His education: completed the seventh grade in primary school. Hold 6 honorary Doctorates and one earned religious Ordainment.
Campaign website: williewilsonformayor.com
Chicago is on the hook for $42 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, which works out to $35,000 for every household. Those pensions, in the language of the Illinois Constitution, “shall not be diminished or impaired.” Should the state Constitution be amended to allow a reduction in pension benefits for current city employees or retirees? How about reducing pension benefits for new employees? Please explain.
Willie Wilson: No. The workers deserve their pensions. The budget of Chicago can be managed, it currently is mismanaged. It is my view that there is a very significant amount of waste in our City due to poor management and that is the proper place to begin. As a CEO of my own enterprises for over 40 years, I understand that accountability and results are key to administrative success.
After being established in 2010, the City Hall Inspector General has been in charge of reviewing all executive officials under the mayor. Despite the existence of the office of Chicago Inspector General, the public outrage over the long history of aldermanic misconduct led first to the creation instead of a separate office of Legislative Inspector General. Aldermen argued at the time that this was necessary to protect the legislative branch of government from executive control and to maintain a separation of powers. So they made this separate council watchdog with limited authority. An example of the council’s watchdog’s limited investigative authority was that the Inspector General still cannot launch an investigation into aldermanic wrongdoing without a signed, sworn complaint. Also, it did not have the power to examine waste and fraud through the normal audit and review process that is enforced at every other City Hall office.
I intend to return the City to the Originally proposed ethics ordinance that gave the Executive Inspector General the power to investigate the aldermen and their staffs and to examine city council programs, subjecting them to the same scrutiny that all other parts of the municipal government.
I would give the city inspector general the authority to examine city council programs that spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Transparency and the ‘light of day’ will put our city back on track to reverse the long held reputation for crooked dealings, insider transactions and wasteful mismanagement.
With literally, hundreds of billions of opportunity, here are the areas that I feel require immediate attention: Pensions, interest payments, civil payments, tourist projects, O’Hare, budget, TIFF. So you see, with proper management, proper business principles, there is more than $1 billion in savings opportunities with cash that is currently being spent.
Of the following often proposed sources of new revenue for Chicago, which of the following do you favor, and why?
- A Chicago casino
- Legalized and taxed recreational marijuana
- A LaSalle Street tax
- A commuter tax
- A property tax increase
- A municipal sales tax increase
- A real estate transfer tax increase
- Video gambling
Willie Wilson: See below
What other sources of new revenue do you favor or oppose?
Willie Wilson: NEW SOURCES OF REVENUE
In addition to saving we anticipate generating as discussed in the section on ‘Mismanagement, below is a discussion of the major initiative I have in mind to generate new revenue for the City:
DEVELOPMENT OF A CITY OWNED, PROFESSIONALLY MANAGED GAMBLING CASINO
There is not much left to debate about a Citizen owned casino in Chicago, Illinois has already passed the base legislation and casino gambling are well established in the state. The question of the issuance of a license to the City of Chicago is purely a political one and will be accomplished. Below is the formula for taxation as established by the state legislature. For the cash needy State and City to continue to postpone this necessary recapture of tax revenue currently being ceded to Indiana and Wisconsin is unconcenable and due to stop now.
My proposal is to locate a Citizen owned / professionally contract operated, casino with no hotel nor full service restaurant, (‘bar snacks only’), on land in the lakefront district. The Sites could include Navy Pier, McCormick Place or the vacant Michael Reese Campus. A commission, including community residents, would be established during the first months of my administration to publicly develop the specific plans.
Our estimation is that this project could add between $600 million up to $1 billion annually to City Revenue (less than twice the casino income of Hammond In.)
PROPOSAL, DEBATE AND LEGISLATION LEGALIZING/REGULATING/TAXING THE USE OF RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA
For the first time (in the 44 years of polling), the majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. As Gallup notes, from a low of 12% in favor in 1969, the latest poll shows a clear majority (58%) now believe the drug should be made legal.
One reason is the so called ‘racial disparity gap’ in marijuana enforcement.
About 70 percent of all marijuana possession arrests last year were for ten grams or less. In the first seven months of 2016, before the statewide decriminalization bill took effect, more than 3,300 people were charged for possessing small amounts of weed. While this figure represents a 74 percent decrease from the approximately 12,800 people who were apprehended in 2014 and an 85 percent decrease from the more than 22,000 people arrested in 2010 (before Chicago passed the decriminalization ordinance), the racial disparity among those arrested for pot hasn’t budged in the last seven years.
Even with the overall drop in arrests, people of color continue to be disproportionately affected. Studies clearly show whites and blacks consume marijuana at similar rates, but African-Americans are far more likely to be arrested and charged for low-level pot possession than whites. The American Civil Liberties Union published a report in 2013 that analyzed marijuana possession arrest data nationwide and found that marijuana use among blacks and whites was roughly equal, with more whites age 18 to 25 saying they’d used marijuana in the last 12 months. But African-Americans, the report concluded, were nearly four times more likely to be arrested for pot possession. In Cook County specifically, the report found that in 2010 African-Americans were about seven times more likely to get arrested for weed possession than whites.
Last year, 78 percent of those arrested for small amounts of weed were black, 17 percent were Hispanic, and only 4 percent were white—virtually the same percentages identified in Reader investigations from 2014 and 2011.
But just 59 people were arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession between when the law took effect and the end of 2016—a dramatic drop that could signal the end of possession arrests in Chicago. Even within this population, however, about 80 percent were black.
Widespread acceptance in a short amount of time isn’t a phenomenon unique to gay marriage. Social change in the U.S. appears to follow a pattern: A few pioneer states get out front before the others, and then a key event—often a court decision or a grassroots campaign reaching maturity—triggers a rush of state activity that ultimately leads to a change in federal law.
Recreational marijuana stores in Colorado received $575.8 million in 2015 revenue based on tax data from the Colorado Department of Revenue. That’s an 84% comp to 2014, showing robust growth in the industry. Turn to other states in which retail marijuana is legal and you’ll see they have posted impressive growth figures as well, even with less time to mature.
Oregon, the cannabis industry is already becoming as visible as major fast food corporations, with more locations in the state than both Starbucks and McDonald’s. They have 248 and 205 locations, respectively.
States where cannabis is legal continue to push for changes that are friendlier to outside investment.
Oregon medical dispensaries have been subject to a 25% sales tax, which will drop to 17% at the state level when retail stores open in the fall. These rates are lower than Washington’s sales tax of 37%, but some of our Washington contacts said they are taking business from Oregon because they are allowed to sell edibles and concentrates. Oregon dispensaries can only sell flower to those without a medical card, but hope they will be allowed to sell edibles and extracts when retail stores open in the second half of this year. They can also only sell up to 7 grams, whereas customers can buy up to an ounce in Washington.
Awarding of licenses to retailers and lower wholesale prices after the tax structure was changed from 25% levied on producers, processors, and retailers to 37% on only retailers. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) raised the former retail store cap of 334 to 556 to help in the process of merging the medical and recreational markets on July 1st.
Bloomberg reports that the Atlanta-based company has been monitoring the cannabis industry for potential partnerships.
In particular, the company is said to be looking at drinks infused with CBD – the non-psychoactive cannabis compound that treats everything from pain and inflammation to epilepsy, but doesn’t get you stoned as there is there is a growing acceptance of CBD-based treatments, as legitimate treatments for everything from pain management to epilepsy have garnered broad support, as well as healthy investments in the pharma space.
Furthermore, there are signs that legalizing marijuana will reduce crime:Marijuana has accounted for nearly half of all total drug arrests in the US for the past 20 years, according to the FBI’s crime statistics. And according to the Department of Justice (DOJ), a large portion of the US illegal drug market is controlled directly by Mexican cartels. The DOJ’s National Drug Intelligence Center, which has since been shut down, found in 2011 that the top cartels controlled the majority of drug trade in marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine in over 1,000 US cities.
Now, those cartels and their farmers complain that marijuana legalization is hurting their business. And some reports could suggest that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is more interested in helping to protect the Mexican cartels’ hold on the pot trade than in letting it dissipate. The Washington Post reported that pot farmers in the Sinaloa region have stopped planting due to a massive drop in wholesale prices, from $100 per kilo down to only $25. One farmer is quoted as saying: “It’s not worth it anymore. I wish the Americans would stop with this legalization.”
Lastly, legalization, as was demonstrated after alcohol prohibition, does not increase consumption.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment demonstrates — for the second year in a row — that youth in Colorado do not use cannabis any more than teens in other parts of the country. In fact, by at least one measure, they use less.
The Healthy Kids Colorado survey is a “voluntary survey that collects anonymous, self-reported health information from middle and high school students across Colorado,” according to the initiative’s website. Over 17,000 middle- and high-schoolers throughout the state were randomly selected to participate. The survey is conducted every other year, and the 2015 version, released this week, confirmed the 2013 findings that marijuana use among teens in Colorado had fallen flat.
Chicago needs to be progressive and lead in this important area effecting our police, jails and tax base I will lead a full effort through the City Counsel and State Legislature to legalize recreational marijuana.
Re-Open Meigs Field Airport
Meigs was the second largest business district airport in North America. Meigs Field airport was closed when Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley ordered the runway destroyed with bulldozers without the thirty-day notice required by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
During the early 1970s there were up to eight round trip nonstop flights a day between Meigs and the Illinois state capital in Springfield. Other commuter air carriers serving Meigs Field in 1975 included Midwest Commuter Airways with nonstop flights to Indianapolis and South Bend, and Skystream Airlines with nonstops to Detroit City Airport with both small airlines operaring there.
Scheduled passenger helicopter airline service was also available between Meigs Field and Chicago O’Hare Airport and Chicago Midway Airport at different times over the years. From the late 1950s to late 1960s, Chicago Helicopter Airways operated 12-seat Sikorsky S-58C helicopters with frequent flights to both O’Hare and Midway.
Numerous VIPs used the airport in order to maintain security and also to avoid inconveniencing the Chicago traveling public, including President John F. Kennedy. In a common pattern, Air Force One would land at a larger area airport, and the President would then take the Marine One helicopter to Meigs Field to avoid the complications of a Secret Service escort via Chicago’s expressways.
“The issue is Daley’s increasingly authoritarian style that brooks no disagreements, legal challenges, negotiations, compromise or any of that messy give-and-take normally associated with democratic government,” the Chicago Tribune editorialized when the airport was suddenly closed. “The signature act of Richard Daley’s 22 years in office was the midnight bulldozing of Meigs Field,” according to Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn. “He ruined Meigs because he wanted to, because he could,” columnist John Kass wrote of Daley in the Chicago Tribune.
Today the space is mostly unused as a concert venue and hard to reach park yielding only $55 thousand dollars to city operations. When it was opened as an airport, it contributed between $300 million and $500 million income per year.
Now, when there is a race to produce new types of flying transportation called ‘V-TOL’s” that operate like a large drone or small helicopter, already in use in some places and the explosion of small jet aircraft travel, including ‘shared ride’ services, this airport could be exactly the facility that a growing modern city needs. We have seen the proliferation of tourist helicopter services in the past few years that have needed to be based as far away from the lakefront tourist district as Roosevelt road and Ashland. Clearly, the lakefront airport would increase this usage by both tourists and business people.
I propose the restoration of this important third airport with planned enhancements for 21st century personal air travel and much needed revenue source.
The City of Chicago has entered into a federally monitored consent decree to overhaul the training and practices of the Chicago Police Department. Civil libertarians say it is long overdue, but others say it is unnecessary and could make it tougher for the police to do their job. What’s your view?
Willie Wilson: I intend divide the city into 4 police districts and form community based citizen committees in each district to help choose the best police leader for their district. This would be the beginning of citizen and police working together, not as adversaries.
Training is now know to be critically lacking. The Chicago Police Department provides no clear directives on how it selects, trains and evaluates officers assigned to patrol public schools, according to a report released Thursday from the city inspector general.
CPD doesn’t even have up-to-date staffing rosters and legal agreements with the Chicago Public Schools system for its school resource officers, according to Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.
There are current no African American detectives in Chicago Police Homicide division. Further, New York and LA, have an overall rate of 15 percent of sworn detectives. Chicago is running at seven to eight percent.
Since 2009, CPD has lost over 30 percent of its experienced detectives to retirement. In addition, the lack of technology places a role in low clearance rates of cases as well. It takes a year for DNA evidence to return from the lab.
These two factors are the main contributors to a ‘clearance rate’ for these crimes of less than 17.5%.
The department’s lack of guidance and structure over school resource officers underscores a “high probability” that students get unnecessarily entangled in the criminal justice system. The IG said it urged authorities to immediately create formal standards and responsibilities for school-based police officers by the start of classes this fall.
In 2017, a report from the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law concluded CPD’s school police officers lacked proper training, faced little accountability and accumulated more than $2 million in misconduct settlements for actions that occurred on and off school grounds between 2012 and 2016.
We must restructure the Chicago Police Department to a racial make up that closely reflects the citizen population including detective level and supervisory level personal. Inclusion of citizens in all aspects of planning for CPD, not just the Review Board, is key to making the department ‘part of’ each community, not ‘above it’. This should ideally include training program design that reflect not only best police practices but issues important to our citizens. We must also have an efficient crime lab availability that is under our own control. I would ensure that these goals are accomplished ahead of any new development projects.
What should Chicago do to reduce the number of illegal guns?
Willie Wilson: Enforce existing laws.
In addition to your thoughts on how to stem the problem of illegal guns, what else should the next mayor of Chicago do to reduce the rate of violent crime in our city?
Willie Wilson: What would I do differently to solve this plague of violence Im often asked. I see it as a straightforward set of actions that starts with having compassion for all of my fellow citizens, no mater who they are or what their background. First we must begin with respect and compassion and understand that anyone can be caught in a bad circumstance.
If you look at Chicago objectively, those communities with resources, thriving businesses and jobs have low crime rates. It is only the six or eight poorest communities that have had every advantage stripped from them, home ownership, clean schools, job opportunities, community repairs and investment, that have high crime, its not hard to see.
First, I would divide the city into 4 police districts and form community based citizen committees in each district to help choose the best police leader for their district. This would be the beginning of citizen and police working together, not as adversaries.
Next, I would, in a similar manner, involve the communities with the Board of Education and an elected School Board to determine which of the 48 schools closed by Rahm should be reopened or rebuilt.
I would also immediately begin to ensure that all city purchasing be distributed to small business throughout Chicago on a ‘parity’ basis that reflects the actual population. Move the purchasing from big corporations and out of city vendors back to smaller city based businesses who will hire their neighbors to staff the warehouses and drive the trucks that deliver the goods that the city must buy. This will create local jobs, local spending and revive many communities.
Ask any police or fire responder and they will tell you, more than half of their emergency calls involve mental health issues. The Mayor and the Governor have both closed mental health facilities and so many people already in high pressure lives have no place nearby to turn for help or medication. I would reopen the community mental health clinics and supply help to those in crisis.
Everyone knows and many say that the TIFF dollars are taken from the communities tax base and funneled into downtown and a few neighborhoods favored by Rahm, directly at his own discretion. I would stop plowing all that money into downtown, the riverwalk and the tourist areas and redirect those funds back into the blighted neighborhoods that they were i tended for. This will also create new jobs and opportunities in those areas. These funds were designed to help the poorest communities and should be used for the ideas above. My more extensive 10 point plan for chicago contains these ideas as well as additional ideas on how to increase revenues, without raising taxes, to fund all of my initiatives.
Rahm’s recent promises for libraries and transit were his basic job all along. Those tokens will take years to accomplish and are window dressing, we need action now – my plan can be implemented immediately.
If we do these things now, we will see crime fo down, I am absolutely sure of that.
What is the appropriate role of charter schools within the Chicago Public Schools system?
Willie Wilson: No response
Should the Chicago Board of Education be solely appointed by the mayor, as is now the case? Or should Chicago switch to an elected school board or some hybrid? Please explain.
Willie Wilson: With the recent horrific revelation that over 500 of our children have been sexually abused in our schools under the noses of our ‘professional educators’, it is clear that we have a failed school system and the basic concept of keeping our children safe while in our charge has not been fulfilled. Clearly we need a complete overhaul of our system as well as our expectations and accountability.
I would, in a similar manner as the CPD, involve the communities with the Board of Education and an elected School Board to determine which of the 50 schools closed by Rahm should be reopened or rebuilt and like other departments, participate in forming the direction of all major decisions. Community based parent organizations in conjunction with an elected school board and the CPS staff will determine the proper number, size, location and staffing of each school and each community. This include curriculum design. I also expect that community driving issues such as ‘pryer in school’ would be properly discussed and decided jointly by the educators and the parents.
It will then be the responsibility of my administration to find the funds and implement the plans. The issuance of debt for a fairly developed school system plan is a higher priority use of financing than is public debt for private business expansion such as gates at O”Hare or a new sports stadium, these examples are often unaffordable/unusable by a large portion of our citizens.
The State of Illinois announced that Chicago Public Schools must turn over control of its special education program to the Illinois State Board of Education. The board voted to appoint a monitor who will have final say on all policies and budget plans related to special education for the 52,000 with disabilities , children with learning issues and physical handicaps need a properly run school system.
The CPS analysis breaks down 16 regions of the city, and shows South Side and West Side neighborhoods have the lowest concentrations of highly rated elementary and high school programs. All of the schools in a large North Side region defined by CPS as Greater Lincoln Park have the district’s highest performance ratings. In one West Side region, however, only 35 percent of the schools achieve those high ratings.
Citywide, 45 percent of black students attend Level 1 or 1-plus schools, while 91 percent of white students attend the top rated schools.
Citywide, 45 percent of black students attend Level 1 or 1-plus schools, while 91 percent of white students attend the top rated schools.
What else would you do as mayor to improve the quality of public school education?
Willie Wilson: See above
Chicago, by ordinance, is an official “welcoming city.” This means the Chicago police are generally prohibited from detaining undocumented immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. What’s your position on this policy? What more — or less — should be done with respect to undocumented immigrants who live in Chicago?
Willie Wilson: No response
What are the top three environmental concerns facing the next mayor of Chicago?
Willie Wilson: No response
Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods, which is part of its charm, but also in some ways a weakness. It can make it hard to build bridges across racial, ethnic and social lines. What would you do to build those bridges?
Willie Wilson: Having been raised as a share cropper in the ‘Jim Crow’ south, my mother taught us never to hold hate in our hearts but to seek to know and understand one another. I have always kept a racially diverse group of employees and friends around me so that we could all learn from one another. In this same spirit, I believe we must ensure that all of our city employees, such as police, be teamed in a racially diverse manner. The fact is, you can not teach someone to be biased, but if you become close to a partner or co-worker you can learn from one another to respect other ideas and cultures.
What past or present Chicago mayor would you model yourself after or take inspiration from? Please explain.
Willie Wilson: I was fortunate to know well Mayor Harold Washington. He was a frequent customer of mine and we became friends. He is an excellent example of a man who represented the entire city while undersanding the plight of the least of those amongst us.
I am fond of saying ‘others say what they will do, check my record, see what I have done’. I believe that my life’s story serves as an example of one who was placed on this earth to help those who can not pay me back.
Other than “Boss” (because everybody says “Boss”) what’s the best book ever written about Chicago, non-fiction or fiction. There are no wrong answers, of course, so we hope you’ll have some fun.
Willie Wilson: My own book, “What Shall I do Now, When I don’t Know What Next To Do”
Also running for mayor: