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Long lines of cars, slowed buses, wasted city resources at Wilson’s $1M gas giveaway

The gas giveaway at Irving Park Road and Western Avenue in North Center this morning. Photo: John Greenfield

With today's second Willie Wilson gas giveaway pretty much over, I'd like to report that this is the end of the saga of a multi-millionaire staging publicity stunts that clog the streets with cars, slow down bus riders, and pollute the air, all for the sake of his own likely-futile political ambitions. However, that doesn't appear to be the case.

The former McDonald's franchisee and medical supply magnate spent $200,000 last week to give away gas in $50 increments at ten locations in Chicago, causing gridlock all over the city as drivers chaotically queued for fuel. Today, he upped the ante, burning $1 million to dole out gas at about 50 locations all over Cook County.

In an op-ed in the local news and culture website The TriiBE, Chicago historian Sherman "Dilla" Thomas wrote that last week's giveaway seemed well-intentioned, but the traffic congestion, emissions, and increased policing negatively impacted the mostly South and West side communities where the event took place. “Giving back shouldn’t have a zero-sum gain and ultimately, that’s how I would rate the great gas giveaway of 2022.”

Wilson probably has convinced himself this was a purely altruistic act. Certainly, if he had chosen to give back to the community by donating a million dollars worth of transit passes, Streetsblog Chicago would be singing his praises, as we did in a satirical article last week.

Free Gas

To help ease the gas crunch, Dr. Willie Wilson will be giving away $1 million in Free Gas on tomorrow 3/24 from 7:00am until the $1million is exhausted.

For locations go to his Facebook page. Like it or share it to receive updates on Dr. Wilson's activities.

— Dr. Willie Wilson (@DrWillieWilson) March 23, 2022

But the socially conservative entrepreneur, who previously ran for mayor of Chicago twice, getting less than 11 percent of the vote, in addition to bids for  U.S. Senator and president, tipped his hand today that he had an ulterior motive for the gas giveaway – another likely mayoral run. "A lot of people asked me to run for mayor of the city of Chicago again, and I’ve been considering it, and it’ll be the next two to three weeks we’ll make that decision,” he told Block Club Chicago this morning at one of the gas stations. He added that he might do another traffic-clogging gas giveaway in the next few months if prices rise.

A person in a Willie Wilson t-shirt pumps gas at Irving Park and Western this morning. Photo: John Greenfield
A person in a Willie Wilson t-shirt pumps gas at Irving Park and Western this morning. Photo: John Greenfield
A person in a Willie Wilson t-shirt pumps gas at Irving Park and Western this morning. Photo: John Greenfield

Here's a quick recap of Wilson's past political positions that make it unlikely he'll ever be elected mayor in this solidly Democratic city.

Despite being a conservative, Wilson, whose fortune is estimated at $25 million, is not above receiving government handouts. For today's event he asked the city of Chicago and suburbs to contribute publicly-funded planning resources, and police and traffic aide work hours, but refused to pay for these services. "I'm a taxpayer," he told CBS Chicago when asked if he would be reimbursing the municipalities. "I pay a lot of taxes for a lot of years, you know?" he said. "So no."

Chicago OEMC traffic aids at Iriving PArk and Western this morning. Photo: John Greenfield
Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications traffic aids at Irving Park and Western this morning. Photo: John Greenfield
Chicago OEMC traffic aids at Iriving PArk and Western this morning. Photo: John Greenfield

Multiple suburbs and gas station owners backed out of participating in today's giveaway, CBS reported. "It's going to affect residents who just want to grab some groceries, impact residents who are taking their kids to school," Alsip police chief Jay Miller said. "So there's a lot of issues that are going to affect our community on Thursday."

Indeed, while things were somewhat better organized this time due to the heavy police and traffic aide presence, there were still reports of long lines of cars impacting the morning commute in Chicago neighborhoods like Grand CrossingIrving Park, and the The Gap.

When I stopped by the gas giveaway at a BP station at Irving Park Road and Western Avenue in the North Center neighborhood around 9 AM this morning, the line of cars stretched half a mile south, all the way to Addison Street, as you can see in the clip below.

There was plenty of confusion about whether gas was still available, since police officers were announcing on their loudspeakers that the giveaway had ended, although that wasn't actually the case. I informed this motorist that she still had a chance of fueling up for free.

Meanwhile, CTA buses were getting stuck in the Willie Wilson-generated traffic jam. This bus driver ultimately got frustrated and used the yellow striped median on Western to bypass the line of cars.

Hopefully in the near future we'll find out exactly how much Wilson's publicity stunt cost Chicago and suburban taxpayers. Frustratingly, it looks like we'll see more political pandering to local drivers in the near future. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a WVON interview today that her administration will release a plan “next week” to subsidize residents' gas purchases.

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