Led by Willie Wilson, Paul Vallas receives backing from Black clergy in race for Chicago mayor
CHICAGO - Millionaire businessman Willie Wilson endorsed Paul Vallas for mayor of Chicago earlier this month.
But on Sunday, he corralled dozens of Black pastors to do the same, shoring up Vallas’ support on the South and West sides before the April 4 runoff.
Wilson addressed the element of race in his decision to support Vallas over rival Brandon Johnson.
"I’m asked a lot, why do I support a white man over a Black man?" Wilson said. "My answer is simple: Paul and I have been on the same wavelength.
Willie Wilson, left, and Paul Vallas talk on Nov. 21, 2022, at the Chicago Board of Elections Loop Super Site. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images / Getty Images)
"I do not believe in defunding the police, nor does he. I do not believe in raising taxes on its citizens. … Paul believes the same thing," he said. "We should not look at color. We have to look out for our best interest."
Wilson ran for mayor in the Feb. 28 election but did not make the runoff.
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Wilson’s endorsement of Vallas — and the endorsement of the pastors who stood with him Sunday at Providence Missionary Baptist Church, 8401 S. Ashland Ave. — could play a role in persuading Black voters to cross racial lines to support Vallas.
Four years ago, Wilson’s endorsement of Lori Lightfoot sent a signal to his older, church-based constituency to vote for her over Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Lightfoot went on to win precincts in all 50 wards.
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On Sunday, Wilson told the pastors flanking him: "Ask your congregation to vote."
As Wilson thanked the pastors, a woman shouted: "We’ll always come out for you."
The church’s senior pastor, the Rev. William Foster Jr., first met Vallas in the 1990s, before he began preaching, when he worked at Chicago Public Schools, where Vallas was CEO.
Foster said he was one of CPS’ first business managers. Foster said Vallas created the positions as a way to separate business and education roles.
"The model that Paul developed was honestly probably the best model for Chicago Public Schools," he said.
Other pastors speaking Sunday in support of Vallas were the Rev. Robert Patterson of the West Side’s Spirit of Truth M.B. Church and the Rev. Stephen Thurston of New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church.
Vallas spoke briefly about the importance of faith-based institutions in communities, saying they, along with schools, can play a role in decreasing crime by providing children with counseling and mentoring.
"The biggest institutions in many of our poorest communities are the schools and the faith-based institutions. We are irresponsible when we don’t take full advantage of those types of relationships," Vallas said.