An African-American candidate in Chicago’s mayoral race is backtracking after he apparently said that he isn't prejudiced against "whiteys" during a Thursday speech.
Tina Sfondeles of the Chicago Sun-Times first reported that entrepreneur Willie Wilson made the racially charged comment during an address to the City Club of Chicago. The Sun-Times included audio of the remark in its story. The City Club has also shared a video of Wilson’s full speech (embedded below, remark at 19:10).
In response to the report, Wilson told the Sun-Times that he did not say the word "whiteys" and that he considers the term offensive. Campaign spokeswoman Tracey Alston told the paper that Wilson said "whites" and suggested the Sun-Times misquoted the Louisiana-born candidate due to his enunciation. His campaign, which Wilson has largely funded himself, has demanded a retraction and apology, while the Sun-Times has stood by its reporting.
Wilson later told CBS 2 Chicago correspondent Jay Levine, "If I said something like that, that ain't me. How could it be me when I support, you know, white candidates?"
That latter comment appears to be a reference to his backing of now-Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) in last November’s gubernatorial election.
In a Friday interview with The Huffington Post, Wilson spokesman Gregory Livingston maintained that his candidate did not say, "To the whiteys here, I’m letting you know I ain't prejudiced." According to Livingston, Wilson said, "To the whites that is here ...,” a distinction that Livingston said is clearer if the tape of the remark is slowed down.
Prior to the remark, Wilson had been criticizing Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration on the issue of public safety and particularly a lack of diversity in the Chicago Police Department. He also called out the black members of the Chicago City Council for offering little pushback to Emanuel's proposals.
Sfondeles, the Sun-Times reporter, declined to comment to The Huffington Post.
As for Wilson's remark to CBS in which he seemingly acknowledged the comment, Livingston said, "Willie is a genuinely nice guy. He'd rather apologize for something he didn’t do than deny something he did."
Wilson is one of a handful of candidates challenging Emanuel in his bid for re-election. The first round of voting takes place Feb. 24. Recent polling has shown Emanuel near, but still short of, the 50 percent support level he will need in February’s election to avoid a runoff between the top two candidates on April 7.
Other challengers to Emanuel include Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, Chicago Alderman Bob Fioretti and perennial candidate William "Dock" Walls. Though the race is officially nonpartisan, the candidates all identify as Democrats.
Race -- specifically, housing segregation -- has been a topic largely ignored in the lead-up to the mayoral election, as the Chicago Reader pointed out this week. It did come up briefly during a candidate debate on Tuesday. As The Atlantic reported this week, some urban policy experts feel ending segregation could be key to fighting poverty in Chicago and other cities. Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule this summer in a case that could undercut the federal Fair Housing Act.
In the latest poll of the mayor's race, Emanuel received 41.7 percent over Garcia’s 16.6 percent and Wilson’s 9.7 percent. Almost a quarter of likely voters said they remain undecided.