Petition challenges could narrow field of Black candidates for Chicago mayor

Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson is trying to knock retiring Ald. Roderick Sawyer off the ballot. Community activist Ja’Mal Green is challenging Wilson. And former state Sen. Rickey Hendon, a top Wilson adviser, is challenging Green.

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Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, shown filing his nominating petitions for the 2023 municipal election on Nov. 21 at the Chicago Board of Elections.

Mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, shown last month as he filed his nominating petitions for the 2023 municipal election at the Chicago Board of Elections.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The deadline for challenging the nominating petitions of candidates for mayor of Chicago came and went Monday with several attempts to eliminate a few of the eight African American candidates in the 11-member field.

Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson is trying to knock retiring Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) off the ballot. Community activist Ja’Mal Green is challenging Wilson.

And former state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago), a top adviser to Wilson, is challenging Green, adding yet another chapter to the political feud between Hendon and Green that includes a profanity-laced tirade between the two caught on video during the 2019 mayoral campaign.

Wilson told the Sun-Times he wants nothing to do with the Green challenge, calling Green a “non-factor” who “doesn’t even show 1%” in polls.

Sawyer is a different story.

The son of former Mayor Eugene Sawyer filed a paltry pile of nominating petitions, giving him little cushion to stay above the 12,500-signature minimum. Sawyer’s South Side ward is fertile ground for Wilson after a lifetime of philanthropy and a more recent burst of goodwill generated by Wilson’s gas and grocery giveaways.

“I don’t think he’ll take much or a lot [of votes away]. But even if you took 10 votes from me, I still want ’em,” Wilson said Monday.

“We don’t think he has enough [signatures]. He only filed 17,000, I believe. And only 33% of ’em are good.”

Sawyer’s branded Wilson’s challenge the “height of hypocrisy” and an “insult” to the thousands of Chicagoans who signed his nominating petitions.

“Willie Wilson talks about being denied access to voting in his life. But now that he’s a wealthy man, he’s doing the exact same thing: denying people their choice by means of his wealth,” Sawyer was quoted as saying in a statement.

Claiming he has “sufficient signatures to pull through this,” Sawyer said Wilson “has no path to victory” but is “denying a more experienced, qualified candidate a chance to run.”

As for Green’s challenge against him, Wilson said: “I’m not worried about challenges. We got 61,000-plus signatures. I got 98% of mine in two weeks. Even if he challenges some of them as no good, we still got way more than enough.”

Green is not so sure.

After spending the last week combing through Wilson’s petitions, Green said he saw a “pattern of fraud that’s utterly disgusting” and suggests classic Chicago roundtabling.

“Over 45,000 signatures were fraudulent. People that did not sign. … There are dozens and dozens of pages that were missing. Dozens of pages that didn’t have sheet numbers. Dozens of pages that didn’t have notary stamps. Dozens of pages that didn’t have notary signatures. Dozens of pages that didn’t have circulator signatures. This fraud in the petition sheets was overwhelming and not like I’ve seen at any other time,” Green said.

“What’s crazy is you can look at the sheets and tell that the majority of the signatures on each sheet were done by one or two or three people. Hundreds of sheets that have the same handwriting that one person wrote, or 10 people. You’ll see the signature come back after the first, second or third one. This was roundtable at its best — and full fraud.”

Mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green files nomination petitions for the 2023 Municipal Election at the Chicago Board of Elections Super Site on Nov. 21, 2022

In November, mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green carried his nominating petitions to the Chicago Board of Elections in a ribbon-festooned wheelbarrow.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Green is also challenging Wilson’s residency, saying Wilson does business at his downtown penthouse but actually lives in a house in suburban Hazel Crest, something Wilson denies.

Hendon, who marshaled Wilson’s petition-gathering campaign, scoffed at Green’s claims of massive fraud.

“If Ja’Mal Green can go through 61,000 or 62,000 signatures of Willie Wilson’s and kick him off the ballot, then the Chicago Cubs will win the Super Bowl this year — and they don’t even play football,” Hendon said Monday.

“He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of knocking Willie Wilson off the ballot. He would be the only one to do it. So why is he doing it? He’s doing it because I’m challenging his stuff because, when he ran before and he saw things weren’t going his way, instead of being a man about it, he went to schoolyard stuff. He said he’d beat my old ass. His words. Told me if I came outside, he’d kick it right now. I went outside. Waited for him. When I came back into the Board of Elections, he had the police waiting for me.”

At Wilson’s direction, Hendon said he then had a private conversation with Green that Green recorded and posted on Facebook and Instagram.

“Then, he screamed out in the Board of Elections for everybody to hear, ‘Yo Mama!’ My mama is dead. I was like, ‘All right. Tell you what: If you ever run for anything — dogcatcher or butt-kisser — I’m gonna kick you off the ballot. You need to change your pull-ups. Change your Pampers. Get that pacifier out of your mouth.’ And that’s what I’m doing,” the always-outspoken Hendon said.

“It’s not a vendetta. I made him a promise. I’m keeping my promise.”

City Council races draw petition challenges, too

Petition challenges also were filed in 28 out of 50 wards on the Chicago City Council.

They included challenges to two candidates seeking the 1st Ward seat now held by Ald. Daniel La Spata: Sam Royko, son of the former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko, and former 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno, who lost the seat to La Spata after a self-destructive string of scandals.

Also, in the 14th Ward, the nominating petitions of a candidate with ties to longtime Ald. Edward Burke has been challenged. (Burke, facing a trial on federal corruption charges, has chosen to retire). The challenge to Raul Reyes, a member of Burke’s 14th Ward organization, comes from Jeylu Gutierrez, who has the backing of mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Petition challenges also were filed against four incumbents: Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th), Ald. Michele Harris (8th), Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).

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