Willie Wilson is endorsing Lori Lightfoot for Chicago mayor, Lightfoot said Friday morning, giving his highly-coveted support to the attorney and former federal prosecutor a little over three weeks before the runoff election.
Wilson finished in fourth place of the initial 14 candidates in the municipal election on Feb. 26, earning 10.6 percent of the vote.
He won 13 wards outright, largely on the city's South and West Sides - making his endorsement highly sought after. Both Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, the final two candidates, courted Wilson nearly immediately after finishing first and second, respectively, in the February election.
Wilson said in the days following the election that he would back a candidate based on who his supporters said he should endorse, calling for input on his Facebook page.
Wilson's final choice was announced when Lightfoot was speaking at the City Club of Chicago Friday morning.
"Obviously Dr. Wilson likes to march to the beat of his own drum but I am deeply grateful," Lightfoot told the crowd. "Dr. Wilson is really an incredible man. He has an unbelievable life story. His generosity to people all over the city, particularly to the black communities that are struggling I think warrants our support, our applause and our thanks. I am grateful that he is going to be formally announcing his endorsement of me and I look forward to work with him."
"Dr. Wilson grew up as a sharecropper in Arkansas, as did my father and frankly there are many things that I see in him that I know my father would appreciate and be proud of," Lightfoot continued, adding, "and we will work together as I will with other folks to make sure that we continue to move forward to bring the change that this city needs."
The final two candidates - both hoping to be Chicago's first black female mayor - were asked about Wilson's endorsement at the NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago forum on Thursday night.
"I don't know what Mr. Wilson is going to do tomorrow but I'm not so concerned about the endorsement of former candidates as I am reaching out to their voters," Preckwinkle said. "I think that's really critical. And in the wards which Mr. Wilson won, I was second."
Election results showed that rang true in all 13 wards Wilson won, with Preckwinkle behind Wilson by as few as 244 votes in the 18th Ward, and trailing him by just over 1,000 votes in the 37th Ward, the largest margin between the two.
For her part, Lightfoot gave a "hats off" to Wilson Thursday night, noting his multiple runs for office, including previous campaigns for mayor and even president in 2016.
"He's built an enormous infrastructure and he speaks to, I think, an urgency in the black community in particular about the unequal distribution of resources in the city and frankly I share that view," Lightfoot said at the forum.
"We've gotta make sure that we frankly are looking to neighborhoods south of Roosevelt Road and west of Ashland in a way that we haven't in frankly the last seven years. So we have to take the case to every neighborhood in the city and talk to people for the desperate need for change," she added.
Wilson was scheduled to formally announce his endorsement at 1:30 p.m. Friday at the Chicago Baptist International Institute. In what could be seen as a counter-measure, Preckwinkle announced the endorsement of various faith leaders Friday morning.