Set aside the singing, television show, mayoral and presidential runs; and Willie Wilson bears the distinction of being Chicago’s most prominent African-American philanthropist. Most recently he was in the news for bailing out hundreds of Cook County residents who weren’t able to pay their back property tax due to an accelerate collection plan.
It was only a month or so ago that Mr. Wilson was dominating the news cycles again thanks to his generosity. That time he was putting up tens of thousands of dollars to gain the release of Cook County jail inmates who were unable to post bail-sometimes as little as $500.
The medical supply magnate’s gestures are certainly without equal. His actions are being much better received than his attempts to be mayor of Chicago or President of the United States.
Both moves were rooted far more in ego, than pragmatism. Although he brought a war chest that made him a potential contender for mayor, his wholesale lack of political and governmental experience doomed each bid before either really got started. Mr. Wilson’s malaprops and overall lack of eloquence was the source of much ridicule, especially among African Americans.
A common description used to describe watching one of Mr. Wilson’s speeches was “painful.” African-American voters were looking for a politically knowledge, thoughtful, and articulate opponent to take on Rahm Emanuel. Mr, Wilson disappointed on all fronts. The 50,000 votes he received in that election fueled Mr. Wilson’s delusion he was destined for public office and he ran for POTUS. That can be summed up kindly as Disaster II.
Mr. Wilson, who has a compelling rags-to-riches backdrop to his life, seems to forget two key things about the top job in any level of government. The first is it cannot be run like a business; he introduced Gov. Bruce Rauner as a friend in 2014 before a predominantly African-American audience at Chicago State University. It’s no secret how Rauner the businessman is faring as Rauner the Governor of Illinois.
The buzz in local political circles is Mr. Wilson’s seeming altruism is a thinly disguised ruse to shore up his image and favorably position him for a second bite at the mayoral apple in 2019. It will be a race many believe in which the incumbent will be vulnerable.
Even if that is the case, Mr. Wilson’s name doesn’t belong on a ballot. Willie Wilson, the social justice philanthropist, is what Chicago and Cook County needs-especially Black residents. Mr. Wilson can have a gargantuan impact in that arena. He can continue to carve out his path and directly influence more lives than he would as mayor, As mayor, he is subject to whichever way city council winds are blowing at the time. He is not in the people pleasing business if he continues in his current role. As mayor, his time, interests, and resources are pulled in directions he would not always control. Those around Mr. Wilson should have the integrity, to be honest with him and tell him he is needed on Cottage Grove, Stony Island and King Drive, far more than he is needed or wanted on LaSalle Street, especially on the fifth floor. Over the next 18 months, the Black community’s mantra should be “Run Willie Run-NOT!”