- Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media
- Willie Wilson during his hearing at the Board of Elections
I was on the phone with a guy obsessively talking politics, when he said . . .
“Did you read Kass today?”
That would be John Kass, columnist for the Tribune.
“Not yet,” I said. “Why?”
“He said Mayor Emanuel didn’t challenge Willie Wilson.”
That caught me by surprise because I recall that for the better part of December I was eagerly following the nail-biting details of the vicious hand-to-hand electoral-law combat going on in the Board of Elections’ back rooms, as attorneys Frank Avila and Andy Finko tag teamed against the legendary Mike Kasper, who was trying to bounce Wilson off the ballot.
Had that election-law battle all been a dream—brought on by too much early holiday whiskey, red wine, and Sichuan cooking?
(By the way, folks, I’m telling you—Mike Sula wasn’t joking when he said you gotta get your butt over to Chinatown and try Yan Bang Cai.)
To make sure, I called Avila, who said: “If Rahm didn’t challenge Willie, what the fuck was I doing in there? Finko and I worked very hard on that motherfucker. And you can quote me!”
To be double sure, I checked in with Rickey Hendon, the former west-side state senator, who’s the brains behind the Wilson campaign.
“Hell yes, Rahm challenged us,” said Hendon. “And we whooped his ass.”
So Kass just made a mistake. No big deal, John. Lord knows, I make a ton of them.
Part of the reason Avila and Hendon are so proud of having prevailed is that they beat the aforementioned Kasper, which is sort of like defeating Michael Jordan in a game of one on one.
Kasper’s great at election law in part ’cause he’s memorized the election code and in part ’cause he’s smart enough to have the state’s two most powerful Democrats—house speaker Michael Madigan and Mayor Rahm—as clients.
“It wasn’t just Kasper,” said Hendon. “Rahm had a full team. They had a bunch of other $500-an-hour, suit-wearing attorneys.” Then there are the two white guys Hendon and Avila say follow Wilson every time he has a press conference.
The case against Wilson came down to one of those notorious binder checks where Kasper challenged the validity of thousands of signatures on Wilson’s nominating petitions.
After almost every hearing Avila made himself available to reporters, who were desperate for something—anything—to write about in the slow days before Christmas.
Most of the time Avila was talking some serious trash—calling the process racist, comparing the objections to a “poll tax,” and accusing the mayor of trying to throw a credible black challenger off the ballot to avoid a runoff in February’s election.
As the battle raged, Kasper upped the ante, moving to subpoena 500 Chicagoans—most from the west side—to testify under oath as to whether they were, in fact, the people who signed or circulated Wilson’s petitions.
Hendon had a field day with that one, speaking of trash talking.
He called it Mayor Emanuel’s “runaway slave round up.”
I’m telling you, politics truly has suffered since Hendon stepped down from office.
On Christmas Eve, Mayor Rahm pulled the plug. The Tribune headline said it all: “Mayor Emanuel drops challenge to petitions of rival Willie Wilson.”
In the aftermath, there are two schools of thought as to why Mayor Rahm dropped the challenge.
One is that he wouldn’t have won anyway.
The second is that even if he had won, he would have lost. Because subpoenaing hundreds of west-siders would have undercut his current attempts to win black voters by transforming himself into a kinder, gentler, Chicago version of Al Sharpton.
In any event, Wilson’s moved on, recently lending $1 million to his own campaign.
Mayor Rahm’s backers tell me they’re still confident he’ll win outright without a runoff.
Maybe so. But he’ll have to do it with Willie Wilson—and his $1 million—in the race.