Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday categorically denied that he’s trying to disenfranchise African-American voters by seeking to knock millionaire black businessman Willie Wilson off the ballot.
“All of us… have to meet a threshold — not just for signatures. We also have to meet a threshold with ideas. We have to meet a threshold with the commitment to see those ideas through. We have to meet the threshold to also have the passion to see those ideas through and the fortitude to make the tough decisions necessary,” he said.
“There’s a threshold set up by the Board of Elections. People have challenged me. But I really do believe the threshold is about the ideas and the commitment you have for the city of Chicago.”
Wilson is a former McDonald’s franchise holder who has built a thriving medical supply business into a $60 million fortune. He has built a strong following by donating millions to black churches and hosting a weekly Gospel music television show, “Singsation.”
He provided Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner with an entrée into black churches.
On Thursday, Emanuel rejected the Wilson camp’s claim that the petition challenge is an act of voter suppression — that the mayor wants to depress the black vote to avoid a run-off.
“There’s no merit to that,” Emanuel said. “We all have a responsibility. I was challenged. Other people have [been challenged]. We’re doing what’s appropriate by the standard for the Board of Elections.”
Emanuel’s campaign manager Michael Ruemmler has alleged that there is an “astonishing pattern of deception” to the 47,500 signatures that Wilson filed.
Ruemmler claimed that Wilson’s petitions are riddled with “fake and duplicate signatures, false addresses of petitioners and… name and address strikeouts.”
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has not yet issued a final ruling.
Earlier this week, Wilson’s attorney Frank Avila Jr. held a news conference in front of the mayor’s office to denounce the petition challenge as racist and the process as rigged.
“This objection and the objection process is similar to the poll tax we used to see in the Deep South. This objection and the objection process is similar to a literacy test for Mr. Wilson,” Avila said.
“This is a racist and discriminatory campaign. It’s a racist and discriminatory objection. And the process… violates the Constitution.”
The rambling news conference concluded with Avila asking what Emanuel is afraid of, then answering his own question.
“You have a strong white candidate in Bob Fioretti. You have a strong Hispanic candidate in Jesus Garcia. But what Rahm Emanuel cannot take is the tri-fecta of a strong African-American candidate. He’s afraid,” Avila said.
“With Willie Wilson in the race, Rahm is in a run-off….Yes, Willie Wilson is a relative political unknown, except in church groups and business circles. But he’s polling right now at 6 percent of the vote. That would put Rahm Emanuel into a run-off. If you give us until February, Willie Wilson is gonna win that race.”