In the middle of his third run for mayor of Chicago, William “Dock” Walls III tells a story of how he played cornerback for the Public League football champions Chicago Vocational High School in 1974.
His team was outweighed by an average of 30 pounds per man per game according to Walls. “The newspapers predicted each week that we were going to lose and lose and were shocked when we won and won,” Walls said.
“That’s why I don’t listen when people tell me you can’t win, because we’ve done it.”
And while Walls, 57, also lost a bid for Congress and two city clerk races, he has helped run his family’s construction business, earned a law degree, started a T-shirt company, owned a chain of four comedy clubs and managed a stable of comedians that included Bernie Mac.
“I’ve never struggled [for money] in my adult life,” Walls says. “God has blessed me.”
But Walls’ campaign war chest is small change compared with the money amassed by the four other mayoral candidates.
For his latest run, he gave his campaign a check for $20,000 and lent himself another $25,000.
There have been a few other small donations, but the lack of major cash — and the fact that Walls got just 8.8 percent of the vote in the 2007 mayor’s race and less than 1 percent in 2011 — leads many to question the viability of his campaign.
Walls was the only candidate on the ballot not invited to WTTW-Channel 11′s Feb. 4 mayoral forum.
But in earlier debates before Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times editorial boards, Walls had a distinct impact on the discussion. He came out swinging, interrupting to make his points and aggressively attacking Mayor Rahm Emanuel as well as the other challengers.
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In the debates Walls hammers home his theme of two Chicagos: one a “beautiful, safe, tourist friendly” mecca for the 1 percent, the other a city where poor minorities dodge potholes, bullets, “a trigger-happy police force” and face regressive fines, fees and taxes.
Walls’ rhetoric is reminiscent of his mentor, Chicago’s first black mayor, the late Harold Washington. Walls campaigned for Washington in 1982 and then worked in City Hall as Washington’s personal assistant until he was fired in 1985.
“People were jealous of the fact that this young guy had so much power,” Walls explains.
Working as Washington’s assistant scheduler and then as his direct assistant, Walls got an insider’s view of how the city worked. He says he played a key role in reorganizing several city departments and that the mayor followed his suggestions for hiring, firing and promoting city administrators.
Others around at the time, such as former Sen. Carole Moseley Braun, said Walls inflated his role with Washington.
“They say that now because it’s politically expedient,” Walls says. “But most of them I got their jobs [for them].”
WVON talk show host and former Ald. Cliff Kelly said he remembers Walls as “A nice young man, very intelligent. He did a good job.” But if he was a big influence on the mayor, “I’m unaware of it. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Kelly said.
Walls was a political science graduate of Tuskegee Institute, where he says he was often exempted from taking finals “because my instructors knew that if I took the final examination, I would run the curve up so high that everybody else would get C’s.”
He had taken a break from law school at IIT Chicago Kent to work for Washington. He returned and graduated in 1986, but never practiced law. He ran for city clerk in 1987, but got less than 4 percent of the vote.
He then switched his focus to working in his father’s businesses, which included a construction company doing Deep Tunnel work.
Walls says he also started managing comedian Bernie Mac, a former CVS classmate. During the Def Jam black comedy boom of the 1990s, Walls says he eventually guided the careers of 22 comedians and ran four comedy clubs in Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland and Houston.
The clubs were not as successful as they could have been, Walls says, because they didn’t allow smoking or serve alcohol. “I didn’t want to compromise my values,” he said.
In 2003, he was inspired by his daughter’s run for a Local School Council seat to re-enter politics, but got knocked off the ballot in another run for city clerk.
Walls learned from that experience and has not only survived subsequent ballot challenges, but was part of the residency challenge that pushed Rahm Emanuel off the ballot four years ago until the state Supreme Court reversed the decision.
“Many of the rulings at the Board of Elections have my name on them because we fought tooth and nail to change the Board and the way it does business,” Walls says.
In his 2007 run against Mayor Richard M. Daley, Walls got his biggest-ever share of the vote, 8.8 percent. It’s likely he would have gotten even more votes had not another black candidate, Dorothy Brown, entered the race.
But in the 2011 contest, he got less than 1 percent.
Walls has a ready line for any reporter who tags him as a “perennial” candidate. “Those who describe me as a perennial candidate are perennial journalists. They haven’t won a Pulitzer Prize yet. But they keep writing in hopes of winning the Prize,” Walls says.
“I continue to fight because our children are still dying in the streets, and nobody is doing anything about it. Rahm is closing 50 schools and people are powerless to do anything about it. We have red light cameras, blue light cameras, speed zone cameras. . . . Rahm has a different policy for the North and Northwest sides than you see on the South and West Sides.”
If elected, Walls’ agenda would be to cut fees and fines and honor city pension deals. He would pay for it all by using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) surplus funds to reduce city debt over the next few years, which he says would free up hundreds of millions now used for interest payments.
He would also bring the private company that has jacked up parking meter rates back to the negotiating table by simply ordering police to stop writing tickets.
“When their pay boxes suffer, they’ll be more than willing to come back and negotiate a deal,” Walls says.
He would get rid of red-light and speed cameras entirely.
“Rich cats, they can afford to pay a $100 ticket and not think twice about it,” Walls says. “But a mother of four who’s struggling from paycheck to paycheck to try to feed her family cannot afford that.”
Like Emanuel, Walls wants to equip police officers with body cameras. He thinks there are enough police, but would hire clerks to review police camera footage and prepare paperwork, freeing officers to spend more time on the streets.
Walls believes an elected school board would be more accountable to the communities it serves, and he would save money for education by making school buildings serve multiple functions, housing police sub-stations and other government services.
He would cut the number of alderman in half, calling many City Council members “a rubber stamp for the current mayor.” Also, Walls says the city’s 311 call center now performs many of the functions formerly done by aldermen.
As for his mayoral opponents, Walls calls them “clout-heavy politicians who promote policies that are good for big business and balance budgets on the backs of the poor.”
He also notes that the only other black candidate in the race, Willie Wilson, “Made millions on the backs of poor people at $6.25 an hour and then sold his McDonald’s and opened up a factory in China where he paid people slave wages when he could have had a factory right here in Chicago.
“I am the only candidate who represents the interests of average people,” Walls says.