Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson vowed Monday to make the CTA free again for senior citizens and abolish the 7-cents-a-bag tax on paper and plastic bags that has hurt retailers and forced everyday consumers to, he said, “carry food down the street in their arms.”
“We need to make sure that the senior citizen who cannot afford to ride a bus or the L [can ride] free of charge. Ninety percent of those buses that drive down the street — with the exception of rush hour — they’re half-way empty anyway,” Wilson told the City Club of Chicago.
“We need to get rid of the … bag taxes. Now, people got to come in the store, can’t afford to buy bags to put their food in. They carry their food down the street in their arms. And they’re hurtin’ our businesses.”
Wilson also vowed to forfeit $56 million in annual revenues by shutting down Chicago’s 352 red-light cameras on Day One of his administration.
As for the $1 billion spike in pension payments that will confront the next mayor of Chicago, Wilson vowed to meet that daunting obligation by re-opening Meigs Field and using the jackpot of revenue generated by legalizing recreational marijuana and by ending Chicago’s elusive, decades-long quest for a downtown casino.
“When I go over in Hammond, Indiana, I see a lot of you all in them casinos over there, alright,” Wilson said as his audience dissolved into laughter.
“I think a casino would bring in, maybe a billion dollars, or $2 billion, a year. I think we need to legalize marijuana. That could bring in billions of dollars a year. I know we got ministers in here. But some of the time, I know probably you all at one time smoked it yourself, alright?”
Wilson said he would earmark “10 percent” of the “billions” in new revenue to bolster trade programs in the Chicago Public Schools and help the same “families in need” he has helped by doling out $500 checks to help people pay their property taxes.
“If we can bail out corporations with tax [breaks], why can’t we bail out citizens?” he said.
The millionaire businessman made all of those promises — and more — during a speech that was short on modesty and long on bold plans to rise above the crowded field in the race to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“They ain’t gonna be in there. They ain’t got no money. … They need to get out of the way,” Wilson said of the other African-American candidates in the race. His $100,000 contribution to himself lifted the fundraising caps for all mayoral candidates.
“You are looking at the next mayor of Chicago.”
Asked if the business community was “ready for an African-American mayor,” Wilson declared: “If they’re ready or not, they’re gonna get one.”
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-ever mayoral runoff.
After a high-profile courtship, including an Emanuel-Wilson meeting at the businessman’s penthouse, Wilson endorsed Jesus “Chuy” 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 is promising to yank those red-light cameras out himself on Day One.
He acknowledged red-light cameras became a pet peeve of his after he was nailed with one of those $100 tickets.
“I didn’t think I was [guilty] until my wife showed me,” Wilson said.
Wilson was equally candid when he talked about how segregated Chicago is and always has been.
“I understand Jim Crow days. I understand also I won’t be caught in Chicago in Marquette Park after certain hours either. This stuff still exists today,” Wilson said.
“When the white politician comes to the African-American community, they get in our churches. But I can’t get into Caucasian churches yet. I’ll just say it like it is. I say it like it is because I don’t know no better. I want you to invite me because I want to be able to talk to all citizens.”