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Ex-mayoral candidate Willie Wilson wants City Hall coronavirus deals; Lori Lightfoot says no

Mayor says she wouldn’t agree to Wilson’s demand for cash payment upfront: ‘Millions of dollars in cash is not something I’m ever going to do with taxpayer dollars.’

Willie Wilson in 2018.
Willie Wilson.
Sun-Times file

Former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson said Monday he unsuccessfully tried to get Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Gov. J.B. Pritzker to buy surgical masks and respirators from his medical supply company.

“It’s a shame that they have to let the city of Chicago and the state suffer like this when I’m right here,” said Wilson, who says his Omar Medical Supplies had a stockpile of more than 30 million masks in Chicago at one point during the pandemic.

Lightfoot confirmed that she spoke with Wilson weeks ago and referred his request to her top procurement official. She said she learned the city’s stockpile already contained the items Wilson was pitching and that Wilson’s lead time to deliver was weeks longer than other companies’.

One other problem, according to the mayor: Wilson was demanding money up front and in cash.

“Millions of dollars in cash is not something I’m ever going to do with taxpayer dollars,” Lightfoot said.

Wilson, who’s now running for the U.S. Senate, denied demanding to be paid in cash.

“I don’t do business in cash,” he said. “I needed the money paid up front so I could pay my people in China.”

He said city officials never asked for details on what he could supply or about pricing.

“She wasn’t truthful,” Wilson said of the mayor’s comments Monday.

Last week, Wilson said his foundation was donating masks to Mount Sinai Hospital and six community organizations. He also donated masks to the Chicago police and fire departments.

City Hall has issued more than $65 million in contracts for COVID-19 related goods and services, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday.

Wilson unsuccessfully ran for mayor last year. Omar Medical Supplies imports latex gloves and other medical supplies. He also has owned McDonald’s franchises.

He said he isn’t looking to “gouge” the government or make a fortune off the pandemic. He was asking to be paid up front at a rate of 80 cents each for three-ply surgical masks and $5 each for KN95 respirators.

Wilson’s endorsement of Lightfoot after he lost in the primary in last year’s mayoral race helped her trounce Toni Preckwinkle in the general election. Last summer, Wilson complained that his calls to Lightfoot since the election had gone unreturned. When he tried to reach the mayor to talk about his proposed slave reparations ordinance, Wilson said Lightfoot sent him a text saying she’s “too busy running the city to call me back.”

Jordan Abudayyeh, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Pritzker spoke with Wilson and connected him with the state’s procurement team. But Wilson wanted “an open purchase order, with no specific pricing set,” Abudayyeh said, and “the state does not enter into open purchase orders.

“While we respect Willie Wilson trying to get a deal for his business, the state has to ensure we’re getting the best deal for taxpayers,” she said.