Willie Wilson Party may be permanent fixture
Persistence in politics is commendable. Losing is not that bad if it is a part of a long-term winning strategy – like Willie Wilson’s 2020 Willie Wilson Party foreshadowing a 2022 Wilson bid for Illinois Secretary of State and maybe Chicago mayor in 2023.
Multi-millionaire entrepreneur Wilson is in the process of spending $5 million of his wealth in a hopeless 2020 bid for U.S. Senator and is on the ballot as the "Willie Wilson Party" candidate. If he gets 5 percent on Nov. 3 then the party will have a permanent ballot line in future elections, like the Libertarians and the Greens. "I want to establish a Third Party," said Wilson. And he will.
Wilson’s 2020 opponents are 24-year incumbent Dick Durbin (D), former (2006-18) Lake County sheriff Mark Curran (R) and Danny Malouf and David Black, the Libertarian and Green candidates, respectively. That’s a field of four boring candidates for senator and Wilson, age 71, who ran for Chicago mayor in 2015 and 2019, and is definitely not dreary or boring. He excites, and is well positioned to amass 20 percent.
Wilson’s appeal is eclectic, bordering on paradoxical, appealing to both Whites and Blacks and Republicans and Democrats.
He supports slavery reparations, the money coming from non-public sources, but he is also pro-police, pro-gun and pro-religion. He supports the 2nd Amendment, opposes any police "de-funding," and supports faith-based schooling. He is a philanthropic fixture in Chicago’s African-American community, donating more than $100 million a year to churches and charitable causes. He received 59,072 votes for mayor in 2019, carrying 13 of 18 Black wards in the primary, and has built a coalition of low-income folks, seniors and churchgoers. A devout Christian, Wilson has attended a different Chicago church every Sunday for more than a decade, always making a noteworthy donation.
Wilson submitted nominating petitions bearing the 25,000-signature maximum to get on the 2020 ballot as an Independent-Party candidate. Sources say he had 100,000.
Wilson, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, promised to distribute one million PPE masks, and has been busily doing so because he makes them. His company, Omar Inc. (named after his son, who was killed in gang-related violence), has long been manufacturing hospital necessities, including masks and needles. A source close to Wilson said he now earns $200 million annually. Wilson himself confirmed to me that the Omar Inc. plant was originally based in Tennessee, then relocated to Mongolia, and now operates out of China. So masks made in China are now combating the virus that originated in China in the United States. Let’s give thanks.
Wilson speaks for a large segment of the Black electorate, but obviously not the elite, the activists or the young. He is an enormously successful capitalist. He is not inclined to tear down society or the system. He believes in that quaint notion of a "work ethic." He has reportedly said that he voted for Trump in 2016.
In 2019 he got 3.4 percent in the conservative, cop-filled 41st Ward and 5 percent in the 19th Ward. On Sept. 29 he was endorsed by aldermen Nick Sposato (38th) Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Chris Taliaferro (29th).
"Durbin’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep," said attorney Frank Avila, a Wilson consultant. Durbin was last on the ballot in 2014, a non-presidential year, and beat Jim Oberweis (R) 1,929,637-1,538,522 in a 3,603,519 turnout, getting 53.3 percent with one other candidate on the ballot. Before that, in 2008, Durbin beat Steve Sauerberg (R) 3,615,844-1,520,621, a 67.8 percent win in a 5,329,804 turnout. There were 3 other candidates, who got a combined 3.7 percent. He won 2,103,766-1,325,703 in 2002 and in 1996, his first election, he beat Al Salvi (R), who he tarred as an "extremist," 2,341,144-1,728,824, getting 54.3 percent in a turnout of 4,311,391, with four others on the ballot getting 5.6 percent.
Time has passed the 75-year old Durbin by. He is the Senate Democratic Whip, but minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gets the headlines. Schumer aced Durbin out of the top job in 2016.
Outlook: 2020 turnout will be about 4.1 million. Wilson’s base is in Chicago, with about 500,000 Black voters. He will get 125,000-150,000 of the African-American vote, plus 50,000 White votes. That’s a win.
NORRIDGE: Persistently losing is not OK. But Tom Benigno, Illinois’ $186,720-a year deputy Secretary of State, is a persistent guy. He persists in the notion that being mayor of suburban Norridge is a promotion. He persists in the expectation that after losing in 2013 and 2017 he can win in 2021. And his persistence may finally be rewarded.
Incumbent Jesse White, elected in 1998, is 86 years old. Benigno essentially runs the office. But succeeding his boss in 2022 is out of the question. A gaggle of heavyweight Democrats want White’s job, including state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, state Treasurer Michael Frerichs, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough and 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett. White had announced his retirement prior to 2018, spurring what would have been a nasty 2018 primary. Party chair Mike Madigan insisted that he run again. Benigno, with a fully vested state pension, looks to Norridge as his golden parachute…even though the mayor’s job pays $60,000. In fact, had Benigno beat Mayor James Chmura in 2017, he could have kept his SOS job – which he might do anyway if he wins in 2021. That’s $246,720-a year until White leaves.
Norridge, a commercially vibrant and fiscally sound village contains 9 precincts with 8,990 registered voters in 5,727 households. Those numbers indicate a very large number of single- or 2-occupant households. Benigno’s political antecedents date back to the old Northwest Side 36th Ward, where precinct-working and precinct-delivering was an art, and was run by the Banks/DeLeo Machine until 2011. If a ward has 40-50 precincts, how hard could it be to flood ten (now 9) Norridge precincts with 5-10 workers each (with plenty of SOS "volunteers") and win? It was.
Chmura beat Benigno 1,722-1,209 in 2013, carrying 9 of 10 precincts, and beat him again 1,892-1,337 in 2017, carrying 8 of 9 precincts. The rap on Benigno was that he was not "involved" in the community, and that his workers were imports not neighbors. Much has changed since 2017. Chmura abruptly resigned in 2019, and was replaced by Trustee Bill Tannhauser. Benigno has been more active in the village, and had $59,740 cash-on-hand as of June 30. And politics is weirdly convoluted.
Longtime township Democratic committeeman Robert Martwick, father of state Senator Rob Martwick (D-10), endorsed longtime Democrat Benigno in past races. But new committeeman (D) Frank Avino, is joining Tannhauser’s "Norridge Improvement Party" slate as one of three candidates for trustee, a post once held by the younger Martwick. Both Benigno and Tannhauser have endorsed Republican Brad Stephens, Rosemont’s mayor, over Michelle Darbro (D) for state representative. Darbro’s campaign is being run and funded by Madigan. Matt Podgorski’s NWSGOP, a pro-Trump grassroots Republican group, recruited Harwood Heights cop Anthony Beckman, who lives in Norridge, to run as a Republican against Martwick for senator in 2020. If Beckman loses, as expected, he is then expected to run in 2021 for Norwood Park Township Supervisor, a job long held by Tom Lupo (D), a protŽgŽ of the elder Martwick. NWSGOP is supporting Benigno.
(D)s for (R)s, (R)s for (D)s. Norridge politics is mega-convoluted. Prediction: Benigno will finally win in 2021 and then knock off Avino for Democratic committeeman in 2022. That explains a lot.
12TH AND 13TH SUBCIRCUITS: There are 46 Cook County judgeships on the 2020 ballot, 13 countywide and 33 in the 15 subcircuits. There are Republican candidates in just two, with seriously contested races in the north suburban 12th and northwest suburban 13th subcircuits; both have a Republican base and have elected Republican judges in the recent past.
Who gave to whom and when? That’s the issue in the 12th, where criminal defense attorney Frank DiFranco (R) faces appointed judge Patricia Fallon (D). Democratic consultant Sean Tenner claims that DiFranco has made four recent donations to President Trump. "This is not a Trump district," he said. Fallon mailers are already pounding DiFranco with a "Don’t elect a Trump judge" theme. A DiFranco spokesman admitted that the candidate donated $250 to Trump, on three occasions, and also $1,000 to Hillary Clinton (D) in 2016.
The 12th subcircuit takes in 241 precincts in Elk Grove, Wheeling, Maine, New Trier and Northfield townships and is very discerning about its judicial picks. In 2016 it elected 2R and 2D to fill four vacancies. A Democrat won in 2018 and 2012, and a Republican won in 2014. Both candidates have been rated "Well Qualified" and 11 retired judges have endorsed DiFranco. Outlook: Absent the "Trump connection" DiFranco could win. Now he’s toast. But there’s always 2022. Now-Judge Jim Pieczonka lost in 2012 but won in 2014.
The 13th subcircuit takes in 225 precincts in Barrington, Hanover, Palatine, Schaumburg and Wheeling townships, a once-solid Republican area now rapidly trending Hispanic. The candidates are Susanne Groebner (D) and Gary Seyring (R), who got 44.6 percent in a 2018 loss. Republicans ran unopposed for vacancies in 2012 and 2014, but lost all three races in 2018. Outlook: Edge to Groebner.