On Tuesday, Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson spoke to a modest crowd of students and community members at the Institute of Politics, discussing his election platform and his rags-to-riches story.
According to a poll done by Wilson’s campaign, Wilson is tied for second behind Mayor Rahm Emanuel. However, Wilson believes that he is the best man for the job because he has reached out to different communities and people from all walks of life.
“I’m Republican, I’m Democrat, I’m all people. I’m an independent thinker…People should make decisions based on the person themselves, not on a party,” Wilson said. He funded his campaign with $2 million of his own money, and claims that he would donate all of his salary if elected.
Wilson, 66, explained how he grew up in the segregated South just two generations from slavery. There, he picked cotton for 20 cents an hour before running away from home at age 13.
Wilson came to Chicago in 1965, and began working at a McDonald’s Restaurant making two dollars an hour. He worked his way up, building his fortune until he owned five franchises. He later sold those to open a medical supply company, Omar Supplies, Inc.
Throughout his life, Wilson has become more religious, and although he says that his religion would not influence his politics, it did inspire him to produce “Singsation,” a nationally syndicated gospel entertainment show that has now been running for 25 years. Now, of the $6 million he earns annually, he said he donates between $800,000 and $1 million to churches and charities across Chicago.
A large part of Wilson’s talk focused on his plans for education reform. He is against school closings, and noted that they not only disenfranchise students, but put employees like receptionists and janitors out of work as well. “When you open a school, the future is bright,” Wilson said.
One audience member, who revealed that Wilson had hired her at a McDonald’s he owned when she was 16, asked Wilson how he plans to employ youth. He said that if elected, he would do to his best to integrate youth in city government and decision-making processes. He would also try to fund day cares for schools, so that young parents could continue their education.
When asked why he had decided to run for mayor after working so many different jobs, his answer was simple. After living in Chicago for decades, Wilson felt he had enough knowledge to try to fix the problems he had observed. “Why [would I not] not get involved and do something about it, instead of sitting on the sidelines?” Wilson said.
The election will take place on February 24.