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Willie Wilson gives away money, says it has nothing to do with mayor’s race

In this file photo from Feb. 4, 2015, businessman Willie Wilson, candidate for the office of Mayor of Chicago, points as he speaks at a news conference after a televised debate at WTTW in Chicago. |AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Willie Wilson used his conservative, church-based constituency to win nearly all of the West and South Sides last week as he finished fourth in the run for mayor. Looking forward, Wilson is trying to sway his 50,000 supporters toward a primarily young group of newcomers for the City Council. | Nam Y. Huh/AP file photo

Willie Wilson said he handed out a whole lot of money Sunday at a South Side church — a couple hundred grand, in fact.

But he insists that’s nothing new. And he said Sunday’s event, attended by Gov. Bruce Rauner, had absolutely nothing to do with his run for mayor. However, it’s already raised more than a few eyebrows on the campaign trail.

“I think people try to make political hay out of it because they don’t got nothing else on me,” Wilson said.

Republican state Rep. David McSweeney asked on Twitter, “How can Willie Wilson, a candidate for Mayor of Chicago, literally hand out CASH at a public event? This is so wrong!”

But when asked about allegations of vote buying, Wilson said, “There’s no truth to that at all.”

Meanwhile, Rauner is locked in his own difficult battle for re-election.

“Gov. Rauner attended a Sunday service at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church as a guest of Rev. Stephen Thurston,” Will Allison, a spokesman for Rauner’s campaign, said. “The governor has attended Sunday services at different churches across Illinois since he first ran for office, and other elected officials and community leaders are often present.”

The Dr. Willie Wilson Foundation promoted Sunday’s event at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church as “one of the biggest property tax relief assistance” events of the year. On its Facebook page, the foundation said Wilson would be “giving away $300,000 to struggling homeowners.”

In the end, Wilson told the Chicago Sun-Times he gave away closer to $200,000 in checks and cash. In a phone interview, he called it “a normal thing for me.”

“We’ve been paying people’s property taxes for years,” Wilson said, adding that the money was also meant to help people pay for smaller expenses, like food or bus passes.

Wilson said people call his foundation seeking assistance, and the foundation cuts checks, asking only that people bring identification to an event.

“We don’t put them through the third degree,” Wilson said.

However, he said some people don’t have bank accounts, so he also brings cash.

And he acknowledged that, when he holds such an event, people tend to show up without having contacted his foundation first. Some don’t even have ID. But he said he doesn’t turn them away.

“I keep money on me just to give it out,” Wilson said. “We don’t turn them down. We give what we can give them.”