“We can’t breathe,” said Rev. Ira Acree as he stood in the foreground of the historic AustinTown Hall building at 5610 W. Lake Street during a press conference this afternoon.

Acree, the pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church, and Rev. Marshall Hatch of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church will serve as senior advisors to the mayoral campaign of Chicago businessman Willie Wilson. They were joined in support by Robbie Wilkerson, pastor of New Kingdom Church and executive director of the LEADERS Network, among a host of other prominent Austin clergymen.  

Both explained that their decisions were motivated by what Acree said is “the intentional economic disinvestment that takes place here on the West Side.” Acree continued on the theme of symbolic asphyxiation, which has become something of a national rallying cry among blacks in the wake of the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases.

“We can’t breathe,” Acree intoned. “When you look at the police force and it is predominantly white [but] we have predominantly black and brown demographics in this city. We can’t breathe—when you look at how poor people and working class people are being impacted by the red light speed camera traps.”

Hatch, who called Wilson “a breath of fresh air,” said that, despite the optics, his decision to join Wilson wasn’t based on the need to form a wall of racial solidarity around the successful businessman, who, after making a $1 million campaign contribution, has emerged as the most plausible African American in the race.  

“This isn’t racial—it’s moral,” said Hatch. “It’s really about values. I believe that people have a right to live in the city. It’s about the least of these,” he said.

“This mayor has failed Chicago,” said Wilson, who pledged “not to forget the little guy,” before detailing specific proposals that have anchored his campaign platform.

Among his key proposals, Wilson has pledged to increase the number of police superintendents from one to four; reopen some of the more than 50 schools Emanuel closed two years ago; reroute the wave of airport contracts that Wilson claimed are only going to the Mayor’s supporters; and implement term limits.

“This community should not be neglected,” Wilson said, in keeping with what has been a major point of consternation for Austin leaders for a long time.

“Austin is never included in any significant development plan,” Acree said. “We have not had anyone on the Fifth Floor [of City Hall] to fight for us,” he exclaimed, before locking hands with Hatch and Wilson as small band of supporters chanted, “We want Willie! We want Willie!”

In addition to Wilson, Hatch and Acree also pledged their support for 29th Ward aldermanic candidate Chris Taliaferro, a Chicago police sergeant and litigation attorney. 

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