A politically powerful pastor of a large Chicago congregation is hoping to translate his following into votes as he prepares to announce his candidacy for mayor. But controversial anti-gay remarks in his past threaten to hold him back.
What's that -- James Meeks? No, he still isn't sure if he's running.
The minister in question is Wilfredo De Jesus, head of the New Life Covenant Church, a sizable institution in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Chicago's Northwest Side. De Jesus is also a commissioner on the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals.
According to the Chicago Tribune, De Jesus said Thursday that he will run for mayor, and is formally announcing his candidacy Friday night at the Humboldt Park Boat House.
His last major foray into politics ended badly.
When 26th Ward Alderman Billy Ocasio retired in the summer of 2009, Ocasio picked De Jesus to be his successor. But a firestorm quickly arose in the gay community because of a number of controversial remarks De Jesus made in the pulpit.
He had previously suggested that homosexuality was a social ill similar to drug addiction that needed to be solved. De Jesus was also a vocal opponent of the now-aborted plan for a Social Justice High School, which would have served as a haven for LGBT youth.
Ultimately, Ocasio withdrew his support for De Jesus, instead suggesting his wife Veronica for the post. In an odd twist, Daley ignored Ocasio anyway, selecting Roberto Maldonado and snubbing his longtime opponent in the city council.
De Jesus is hoping to put the matter behind him, much as Rev. Meeks seeks to do as he mulls a mayoral run. In a series of meetings with city leaders, Meeks traveled to Boystown to meet with prominent figures in the gay community, and express his support for gay issues. He, too, has been described as homophobic because of remarks he made in his church, Salem Baptist.
While he believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible that forbids homosexuality, De Jesus says, he will not let religion influence his policy-making.