Willie Wilson did a lot of gas freebies. What is his position on CTA security? – Streetblog Chicago

In November 2019, Streetsblog Chicago co-editor John Greenfield took the CTA’s #20 Madison bus to work with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and had a chat about local transportation issues. Today I took a similar trip with Willie Wilson, the millionaire former McDonald’s franchisee and current medical supplies mogul who is challenging Lightfoot in the upcoming election.

Wilson caused controversy with the many free gas giveaways he hosted in Chicago and Cook County. While these events are popular with motorists, critics have noted that the giveaways create traffic jams that slow buses and generate air pollution, and the events have involved Wilson getting free funded police and traffic enforcement services. by taxpayers.

So what does it do when a candidate who has encouraged driving holds a press briefing on public transport? Wilson’s bus ride, which was followed by a more formal downtown press conference at the Lake Street Red Line station, was an opportunity for him to discuss his proposals for tackling rising rates of violent crimes on the CTA.

Wilson took the Madison bus eastbound from Austin and Madison, the city’s border with Oak Park all the way to Washington and Michigan to get there. The bus arrived on time at 8:19 a.m. and Wilson boarded it with several members of his entourage.

“We wanted to have an experience while we were traveling, not just on the bus,” said Dr. Shando Valdez, senior adviser to Wilson’s campaign, on board. “We have already boarded the train. We will continue to do so. This is going to be one of his practices while he is in office. Ride and personally experience what every driver experiences. Whether it’s violence or just what it’s like to ride the bus or public transport during the winter. What is it when [traffic is] congested. What is it when there are problems with public transport, he wants to be able to fully experience all the common and constant experiences of users. »

On the bus, Wilson was happy to oblige passengers who asked to take a picture with him. As we drove through neighborhoods on the West Side, Wilson, who currently lives in a downtown penthouse on Wacker Drive, pointed out the places he remembered living and working in the area. For example, he noted that a vacant lot at Madison and Karlov Avenue in West Garfield Park was once the site of a McDonald’s that was demolished in the early 2010s.

Wilson takes a photo with a CTA pilot.  Photo: Cameron Bolton
Wilson takes a photo with a CTA pilot. Photo: Cameron Bolton

Wilson also asked his fellow travelers where they traveled, how often they took the bus, and what problems they might have encountered while riding the CTA. A recurring concern was personal safety, with the topic of redline crime coming up repeatedly. This is understandable, since the bus ride and press conference took place days after Diunte Moon, 29, a father, law student and security guard, was shot and killed early Saturday morning at the 79th station. Street Red Line in Chatham.

“How many lives must be lost before city leaders take the protection of people traveling in CTAs seriously?” Wilson said in a press release. “How many citizens must be terrorized and traumatized? Violence on CTA buses and trains has increased by 40% compared to last year. The battery has increased by 60% and the flights have increased by 80% compared to last year. There’s a literal crisis, and the mayor allows the likeness of Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Al Capone to terrorize our town.

The eight-mile drive downtown in rush hour traffic took about an hour. When Wilson and his aides arrived in State and Lake for the press conference, they still had plenty of time to stop at Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain that made headlines a few years ago. years for his donations to anti-LGBTQ organizations. , for a quick bite. In 2016, Wilson denounced the Supreme Court’s decision that legalized same-sex marriage, but in 2018 he said he had changed his mind on the issue. The following year, after running for mayor in the general election and failing in the second ballot, he endorsed Lightfoot, who would become Chicago’s first openly gay mayor.

Wilson at his podium on State Street.  Photo: Cameron Bolton
Wilson at his podium on State Street. Photo: Cameron Bolton

From there, Wilson and his crew made their way to the spot in front of the lake station, where a podium had been set up for him to speak. “Now it is my great privilege and honor to introduce you to the next mayor of the City of Chicago,” said Wilson campaign manager Richard Boykin, a former Cook County board member. who now works as a lawyer. “A man with a track record of action. One who has delivered for people time and time again. And someone who is bold, visionary and not afraid to crank up the CTA.

Wilson mostly talked about his proposal to reduce crime on the CTA. “You have to take care of the citizens at all costs,” he said. Make sure they feel comfortable and won’t be… molested or hijacked. The CTA [is a] case today. People are being robbed, people are being killed, it’s terrible.

Here are the boards of his platform (the language of the Wilson campaign):

  1. Dedicated CTA Transit Police. Increase the number [of officers] to 300. Some will be in civilian clothes and will take trains and buses. Police will be trained in de-escalation and customer service. We will work with community health centers and social organizations to connect people in need of help with services.
  2. Bring conductors for each train.
  3. Federal charges for firearms and violent crimes committed on trains and buses.
  4. Strict enforcement of train and bus laws. Smoking, urinating and soliciting will not be tolerated.
  5. Improved communications and cameras in trains, buses and terminals. [We will provide] the possibility for passengers to quickly report any problems. In addition, the driver’s radios must be connected to the transport police.
  6. Create a website to allow customers to see where the crime is happening on the CTA.

At a time when many Chicagoans are calling for spending less money on police and investing more in social services as a crime prevention strategy, only time will tell if Wilson’s CTA plan will be well received. or will prove as controversial as its gasoline giveaways. . The February 2020 police shooting of Ariel Roman, a man whom officers attempted to arrest for illegally walking between ‘L’ cars, which involved police recklessly firing into a train station escalator heavily trafficked, raised the question of whether adding additional weapons to the system is the best security approach.

Notably, Wilson has released no statement on ideas to address the CTA’s current problems with long waits between bus and train journeys and unreliable service, which are largely caused by labor shortages. work and buses stuck in traffic jams generated by drivers. When residents can’t rely on the system to get them where they need to go on time, fewer people use it, which means there are fewer “eyes in the cars and buses” to help deter crime.

While Streetsblog Chicago may not agree with all of Wilson’s transportation policies or ideas for tackling crime on the CTA, it’s good to see him elevate transit safety as a major issue. in the countryside.

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