Eager to ease historic political tensions between Blacks and Hispanics, Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) on Wednesday endorsed millionaire businessman Willie Wilson for mayor of Chicago.
One of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s most outspoken critics, Lopez was the first to join the crowded race to unseat her. He was also the first to drop out of the race — on Nov. 21 — arguing on that day that having the “maturity” to put his “ego” aside and narrow the field would increase the chances of defeating an incumbent he called “destructive and dangerous for this city.”
Since then, Lopez has been weighing his endorsement options.
At first blush, former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas appeared to be the most likely candidate to be endorsed by Lopez. Like Lopez, Vallas is a tough-on-crime, law-and-order candidate who served as an unpaid adviser to the Fraternal Order of Police during contract negotiations with the city.
But Lopez said he ultimately determined Wilson is the better choice because he is “the candidate who can win” and bring Chicago together.
“Last time, he won all [but five] Blackwards. … He’s been working hard to expand beyond that base and develop a constituency in other wards. … He’s making a play beyond just the African American community. I’ve seen that first hand. It’s something he’s been doing for months, if not years now,” Lopez said.
“Dr. Wilson and I have grown a friendship. … He and I have been able to come together to discuss issues and propose solutions. That’s what we need in a mayor. That’s what I need as an alderman: a mayor who’s willing to listen and to work with me to get things done.”
Lopez’s decision not to endorse the only Hispanic mayoral candidate — US Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., comes as no surprise.
The two men are dedicated adversaries on, as Lopez put it, “two different political wavelengths.”
Garcia opposed Lopez in the 2015 election and in his 2019 reelection bid — but Lopez won anyway, denting Garcia’s reputation as a political kingmaker.
“I’ve focused more on producing for more residents and he has focused more on rhetorical goals that don’t actually produce anything or change neighborhoods,” Lopez said.
“I’ve seen what he hasn’t done for people while claiming to be fighting the good fight. And I don’t need someone who’s just about to talk. I need someone who’s about getting the job done.”
Lopez insisted, however, that his endorsement of Wilson is not motivated by a desire to get even with Garcia. It’s about resurrecting the rainbow coalition that, in 1983, helped Harold Washington become Chicago’s first Black mayor.
“I know, being someone who has brought African Americans and Latinos together under one roof, that we can do this together. We can either focus on the historical tensions of the past. Or we can focus on the future. That’s what Dr. Wilson and I intend to do together. By healing old wounds, uniting neighborhoods and moving this city forward,” he said.
“While there are many people who are… trying to claim the mantle of Harold Washington, the fact of the matter is that Dr. Wilson has been working very hard to create a multi-ethnic coalition from the ground up.”
Businessman Willie Wilson, shown at his April 2022 announcement that he is running for mayor of Chicago.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun Times
In a nine-candidate field most likely headed for a runoff, the Lopez endorsement could help “sway a lot of people my way,” Wilson said.
“It means that we are pulling things together. I’m not looking for a coalition of Black and Brown. I’m looking for a coalition of Black, Brown, white, Asian and other. I’m looking for everybody as a coalition so we can run this city together,” Wilson added.
“One thing that Lopez does — he brings a lot of experience that, certainly, I can learn from in terms of City Hall.”
Wilson was a bit less sanguine about easing historical political tensions between Blacks and Hispanics rooted, in part, in the competition for jobs, contracts and political empowerment.
“It’s a start. Put it that way. It’s a start,” Wilson said.
“We won’t maybe cure everything. But it’s a start.”