Wilson’s 2nd gas giveaway goes smoother, says 3rd a possibility

Willie Wilson gave away about $1 million worth of gas Thursday through nearly 50 stations in Chicago and suburbs.

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Cars and trucks lined 16th Street in Berwyn Thursday as people waited to get free gas at a BP station at 1600 Oak Park Ave.

Cars and trucks lined 16th Street in Berwyn Thursday as people waited to get free gas at a BP station at 1600 Oak Park Ave.

Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Gasoline and goodwill flowed freely Thursday at nearly 50 gas stations in Chicago and the suburbs where businessman and mayoral candidate Willie Wilson arranged to fill the tanks of thousands of motorists — for free to the tune of $1 million out of his own pocket.

It was his second gas giveaway in as many weeks. And he’s considering a third.

“We’re going to take another look at this thing in a month or two, and if gasoline prices go up again, then we’re going to be compelled to do this again,” Wilson said while visiting a Cicero staton where he pumped gas. “It ain’t really about the money, it’s about the human beings. You can replace money, but you can’t replace a human being. Life gets hard, life gets tough and people struggle.”

He said the same governmental approach that was taken to help people get through the COVID-19 pandemic should be taken with skyrocketing gas prices.

“We’re going to go home tonight and figure out how can we do more because we haven’t done enough yet,” he said. “We have to do more. All of us have to do more.”

If it was a publicity stunt, no one getting gas was complaining.

“He’s doing it out of the goodness of his heart,” said Marcus Allen, 39, one of hundreds of motorists who lined up for 18 blocks in the western suburb. “He is a Christian man. I hope he’s not doing it for votes.”

Stanley Rankin showed up Thursday at a gas station in Evanston at 2:30 a.m. for a free tank.

After he topped off, a Wilson staffer recruited him to work a pump for $15 an hour.

“He gave me a T-shirt and put me to work because someone else didn’t show up,” said Rankin, 61, of Rogers Park.

He pointed to a long line of cars and said, “People are hurting.”

Rankin, who’s unemployed, said he planned to use the money he saved at the pump to buy pacifiers and milk for his granddaughter.

“She’s always losing her pacifiers,” he said with a laugh.

Rankin didn’t vote for Wilson last time, but plans to this time.

Police and other traffic authorities, determined to avoid a repeat of the traffic headaches caused by last week’s gas giveaway, were better prepared to handle the crush of cars — though those who idled their engines while waiting in line, or overnight, would have burned anywhere from a quarter-gallon to half a gallon of gas per hour.

At a gas station in Rogers Park, Wilson staffers handed out numbered tickets to the first 400 cars in a designated line that snaked down Touhy Avenue. Police blocked side streets to prevent the sort of jockeying for position that led to congestion last week. There were about 370 cars in line around 7 a.m. when the free gas began to flow.

Wilson, who was accused by critics in a previous failed mayoral bid of using charitable cash handouts to buy votes, said he would be undeterred by naysayers and doubters.

“I’m not afraid to run for anything,” he said, standing beside Cicero Town President Larry Dominick and other officials. “I’m not afraid of anything but Christ. So we’ll get ridiculed for doing good, for doing bad. Let them criticize me for doing good. This situation here is only about helping the people.”

The Chicago City Council won’t be offering free gas, but it still may offer some help on Monday, when its Finance Committee meets to consider Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to roll back all or part of Chicago’s gasoline tax — at least temporarily.

That tax stands at 8 cents a gallon. It had been a nickel, but Lightfoot increased it to help her balance her first city budget.

Lightfoot wouldn’t say Thursday precisely how much of a break or how long of a gas tax holiday she intends to offer, saying only that “we’ve got to do our part at the city to provide some relief for the people that are struggling. Not everybody can take the CTA.”

She added: “I’ve talked to residents who are saying, `I can’t afford to fill up my tank. I’m riding on a quarter of a tank. And then, maybe I’ll put a couple more dollars in. That’s not the way people should have to live.”

One woman in line in Cicero can relate to that. She had been waiting since 1 a.m. to get free gas, watching the needle inch closer and closer to empty.

When she finally reached the station at Laramie and Cermak at 8 a.m., a half-dozen burly men had to push her Mercury Mountaineer to the pump.

“Oh my God, it’s Willie Wilson!” she shrieked when her gas giveaway hero began pumping fuel.

Juno Franco, a bus driver who grew up in Haiti and lives in Rogers Park, filled up in Evanston.

“It’s a wonderful thing that he’s doing at this time. Times are hard. We all need this type of help,” said Franco, 43.

“I can go to a supermarket and buy some food for my four kids now.”

Next in line for the pump was Salman Shaheen, 28, an Amazon delivery driver from Morton Grove.

“This is a pretty awesome thing,” he said. “I use my own car and this is going to help me so much today.”

Khaled Albarsery, 27, a software developer who filled up in the city, said he appreciated the free gas but was unsure if it would sway his vote. “Wilson is definitely going to be a name I recognize now, but I’ll have to research it a bit more,” he said.

Dennis Finn tried to time it so he arrived at a gas station in Rogers Park on fumes.

“I made it. This is amazing,” he said.

He plans to spend the cash he saved on gas on toiletries and food.

Asked if he planned to support Wilson’s candidacy, Finn was flummoxed. “What’s he running for?” he asked.

Contributing: Fran Spielman

Stephen Adams, who started lining up at 5:45 a.m., smiles as a gas station attendant fills his tank with free gas Thursday morning, courtesy of Willie Wilson at the Mobil gas station at 1950 Green Bay Rd. in Evanston.

Stephen Adams, who started lining up at 5:45 a.m., smiles as a gas station attendant fills his tank with free gas Thursday morning, courtesy of Willie Wilson at the Mobil gas station at 1950 Green Bay Road in Evanston.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Businessman and former Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson pumps donated gas for a driver Thursday morning at a BP gas station at 5201 W. Cermak Rd. in Cicero.

Businessman and former Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson pumps donated gas for a driver Thursday morning at a BP gas station at 5201 W. Cermak Road in Cicero.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gas station attendant Nicole Profit fills a driver’s tank with gas paid for by mayoral candidate and businessman Willie Wilson at the Mobil gas station at 1950 Green Bay Road in Evanston, Ill., Thursday morning, March 24, 2022. Wilson is giving away $1 million worth of free gas in 50 gas stations in Cook County.

Gas station attendant Nicole Profit fills a driver’s tank with gas paid for by mayoral candidate and businessman Willie Wilson at the Mobil gas station at 1950 Green Bay Road in Evanston.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Motorists lined up at a BP station in Cicero Thursday to fill up during Willie Wilson’s gas giveaway.

Motorists lined up at a BP station in Cicero Thursday to fill up during Willie Wilson’s gas giveaway.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Willie Wilson greeted motorists and pumped gas at a BP station at 5201 W. Cermak Road in Cicero on Thursday morning, March 24, 2022.

Willie Wilson greeted motorists and pumped gas Thursday at a BP station at 5201 W. Cermak Road in Cicero.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Motorists waited in line for free gas Thursday at a Mobil station at Foster and Green Bay Road in Evanston.

Motorists waited in line for free gas Thursday at a Mobil station at Foster and Green Bay Road in Evanston.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Motorists streamed into a BP station in Berwyn on Thursday for free gas.

Motorists streamed into a BP station in Berwyn on Thursday for free gas.

Brian Ernst/Sun-Times

Motorists fill up Thursday at a BP station in Cicero during Willie Wilson’s gas giveaway.

Motorists fill up Thursday at a BP station in Cicero during Willie Wilson’s gas giveaway.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Drivers line up to get their tank filled with free gas courtesy of mayoral candidate and businessman Dr. Willie Wilson at the Mobil gas station at 1950 Greenbay Rd. in Evanston, Ill., Thursday morning, March 24, 2022. Wilson is giving away $1 million worth of free gas in 50 gas stations in Cook County.

Drivers lined up to get their tanks filled with free gas Thursday at the Mobil gas station at 1950 Green Bay Road.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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