Wilson endorses Vallas, cites concerns about tax hikes, Johnson cutting police budget

“If you defund the police, how are they gonna do their jobs?” Wilson asked.

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Willie Wilson announces his run for Mayor of Chicago at his condo in the loop, Monday, April 11, 2022.

Willie Wilson, shown last April when he announced his candidacy for mayor of Chicago, has endorsed Paul Vallas in the runoff election.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson on Wednesday endorsed Paul Vallas in the April 4 mayoral runoff, citing concerns that Brandon Johnson would defund the Chicago Police Department and impose a slew of tax increases that would drive businesses and jobs out of Chicago.

Over the years, Johnson has called defunding police a “goal,” not a political slogan. He has steered clear of the term during a mayoral campaign dominated by the surge in violent crime.

Wilson said he is “not fooled.”

He argued Johnson’s refusal to commit to filling 1,700 CPD vacancies or fully funding the department’s $1.94 billion budget speaks volumes.

So does Johnson’s plan to cut at least $150 million from the police budget by increasing the number of rank-and-file officers assigned to each police supervisor and launch an efficiency audit of CPD to identify even more savings. Johnson’s plan to promote 200 detectives would also create 200 additional vacancies that may not be filled, Wilson said.

“Politicians do change their minds when they see the wind blowing a different way. But I listened to him. I was in all of the debates with him. I’m not fooled at all,” Wilson said of Johnson. “He would defund the police. If you defund the police, how are they gonna do their jobs?”

If Johnson is elected, Wilson said he fears CPD officers “will feel like they’ve got no backing,” and “crime will get tougher.”

Yet another concern for Wilson and his church-based constituency is Johnson’s $800 million plan to tax the rich to help bankroll $1 billion in new spending on public schools, transportation, housing, health care and job creation.

Johnson has called it “investing in people” and said it’s the cornerstone of his anti-violence strategy.

“People are having problems paying real estate taxes now. Taxing corporations and small businesses don’t make sense because you’re gonna run jobs out of this city. And if you take jobs out of the city, entrepreneurs will get hurt as well,” Wilson said.

Wilson questioned how Johnson can protect taxpayers’ interests in negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union when he is a paid organizer for the CTU, though Johnson is expected to give up that job if elected.

Vallas served as an unpaid adviser to the Fraternal Order of Police at the negotiating table, helping deliver an eight-year police contract that ended the longest labor stalemate in Chicago history.

“Brandon is supported by Toni Preckwinkle and also the CTU. That’s a concern. Is he really gonna be running it himself, or is the CTU gonna run it?” Wilson said.

“These kids graduating from these schools right now can’t even read or write. Can’t even tie their shoes. That’s a serious concern of mine,” Wilson said. “If they can’t do that now, and every year there seems to be a strike, how are you gonna improve that? What else is gonna happen if the CTU gets even more power?”

Four years ago, Wilson won 13 of 18 Black wards, finishing fourth overall with 10.6% of the vote. In the runoff, Lori Lightfoot won all of those wards — and swept all 50 wards citywide — after Wilson endorsed Lightfoot over Preckwinkle.

Wilson’s endorsement of Lightfoot sent a signal to his older, church-based constituency that, as he put it, “contracts and jobs and schools” were more important than concerns they may have about Lightfoot being gay.

Willie Wilson endorses mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot during a press conference at Chicago Baptist Institute International, Friday afternoon, March 8, 2019.

Willie Wilson is shown in March 2019, endorsing Lori Lightfoot in that year’s mayoral runoff. Wilson has since called his decision to back Lightfoot “a hell of a mistake.”

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Wilson has called his endorsement of Lightfoot “a hell of a mistake” that will not be repeated with his backing of Vallas.

Despite the controversy generated by his comment that criminals should be “hunted down like rabbits,” Wilson’s endorsement was coveted by both candidates.

The millionaire businessman predicted Wednesday that a majority of the 51,595 voters who supported him on Feb. 28, most of them African American, would support Vallas.

If he’s right, it could go a long way toward giving Vallas the 20% to 25% share of the Black vote he needs to win the runoff.

“My voters are senior citizens around my age. I’m a senior citizen, too. I’m making this decision from the people that voted for me,” said Wilson, 74, who met with both candidates and consulted his supporters on social media and in person before making his decision.

“My endorsement will mean a heckuva lot because I have a large following,” said Wilson. “I’ve been consistent any time I ran for any offices in the past. My people usually follow me. Who’s gonna decide the next mayor? With all of the data and all that, it is the African American community. That’s the vote that both candidates need.”

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