As Chicago enters a new season without Mayor Daley seeking another term, senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park Wilfredo de Jesus, announces last week he is entering the race to become the mayor of Chicago.
I had an opportunity to catch-up with Wilfredo, affectionately called Pastor “Choco” by his church members, family and friends, over morning coffee. As a faith-based entrepreneur and financial coach, I wanted to clear the air on politics and religion, his qualifications to be the mayor of Chicago, an anti-gay misconception about Wilfredo and what he will do to stir small businesses and stimulate the economy for households in this great city.
Stay posted for a special interview podcast that you can download to listen to the full conversation I had with Wilfredo AND new video of this moment on our YouTube channel.
After a few sips of cafe con leche and catching up on the happenings of our children and close friends, our formal conversation began.
MS: What qualifies you to run as a candidate for the mayorship of Chicago?
WDJ: Well, thank you, Matthew, and, it’s good to be here with you. What qualifies me is two years ago, the now-President Barack Obama, addressed me to be a surrogate for him to travel around the country. After several series of meetings, I took on the position of an advisor to the President, to be able to go and galvanize the evangelical vote for him. So that qualifies me, on that end, that the President of the United States saw something in me to represent him around the country.
Secondly, I say what qualifies me is the Mayor of the City of Chicago himself. Five years ago he appointed me as the Commissioner of the Zoning Board of Appeal. He felt that I can bring to that board a balance, integrity and character. And I’ve been doing that for the last five years.
[Third] God, qualifies me. Chose me to lead his people. People that have went from sixty-eight to the thousand, throughout this city and around the world. So that qualifies me to be a leader and not only that but I think to be able to manage an organization this large. That perhaps in the first year of pastoring 10 years ago, we were at 100,000 plus in the budget and now we’re in the millions of dollars. And never in 10 years, have we ever been in the red so that qualifies me to be able to run for the Mayor of the city of Chicago.
MS: As people start to research you to get to know a little more about you, start to get know more about your views, one of the issues that may come up is this whole anti-gay issue that you are against the gay community. Can you address that for our viewers and readers?
WDJ: Yeah, absolutely. I think that stems from two years ago, I took a position against a school being built for just solely gay students. See, I have a problem with that because I believe the gay community have fought so long to be inclusive and then to be able to exclude them and to put them in a school. I was standing because I felt that was segregation. We’re going back to segregation and so what I addressed to the city is the very thing that Rick Garcia said, who is the leader of the gay and lesbian community here in the state of Illinois. He said the very same thing I said, that it was segregation.
And so I stood, I thought I was speaking in favor and supporting, that it was not right to put 600 students in a building and then be ostracized and be picked on and be called names. So, I felt, hey, if the city was going to build a school for gays, then it had to be fair across the board. They had to build one for obesity, they had to build one for Muslims, they had to build one for Christians. That was the whole thing behind it. But some folks have taken that I was anti-gay.
I don’t know how that makes me anti-gay when the last year I have been in active communication with the gay community and try to help build and connect resources to build a shelter here in Humboldt Park for the gay community. I don’t know how that makes me anti-gay. I’m not anti-anybody. I love everybody, just as Christ would ask me to do that.
I believe that where that comes from was this whole school concept when I was really trying to protect the segregation part of it, not to create it. Again, when the gay community have fought for inclusiveness.
MS: You’ve never been a pastor that just stands behind the pulpit. Now we’re in the middle of a recession. Chicago is basically on its knees. What would you do as Mayor for the city, to stir up small businesses and to create jobs?
WDJ: Well, one of the first things we need to do and here’s a problem with politicians that they don’t do, perhaps, is sit down with the people who are gatekeepers in their community.
We need to hear from them. Call a summit and begin to hear from businesses. Where are they struggling at? How can we rejuvenate the economy within our communities? We take it from that part.
Just in the month of September, I told the whole church to go down Division street. Begin to go to restaurants, to stimulate the economy of our own community. I would encourage churches to do that in every community in our city. To begin to support the businesses, to do it.
Secondly, I want to be able to talk to the businesses about their loans and how can we get bankers that are sensitive to the times and to be able to give low-interest rate loans. To be able to be sensitive to what they’re also going through.
How can the city and their resources, as it pertains to building permits and zoning, how can we make it more effective and efficient? Because there are a lot of people out there, that even, despite this recessions, are opening up businesses. We want to help those folks, to be able to become successful.
MS: What’s going on here in Chicago is there’s a huge amount of foreclosures. And unfortunately depreciating real estate property values. What’s your viewpoint in how to really help heal and restore the real estate market here in Chicago?
WDJ: There’s been a, a lack of hope. I think people have sense of hopelessness. People have lost their homes that they’ve been there for 10 years, 12 years, 15 years and because of the economy, they find themselves in the streets.
And we have to do better as a city, to be able to halt the foreclosures. And be able to talk to the federal government, be able to support these families that are trying to make paycheck to paycheck, mortgage [payment] to mortgage [payment]. Then be able to meet the needs of the necessities of their homes. We need to bring in the realtors. And hear from them. And hear what their heartbeat is.
I believe as a mayor, there are people out there that we can galvanize, that we could bring to the table, to be able to give us good counsel. I think we have a great opportunity today to be able to do that in the midst of this recession. To bring in people, folks who are experts. I still believe that money’s out there and we could purchase these homes that are now $30,000 and $50,000 and flip them around to families to at least keep the community running. We don’t want to see buildings in our city being boarded up. We don’t want to see that. And so we have to be able to sit down with folks and hear from them regarding this.
MS: In the Humboldt Park community, pastor, you’ve kind of done a little bit of a renovation. Which is an understatement. What have you done as a steward of the church, the church community, the church’s money and assets? What have you done to grow this community here in Humboldt Park, one of the roughest neighborhoods in America.
WDJ:I totally believe that the church is a stakeholder in every community in our city. Here’s what we’ve done in Humboldt Park. When I became pastor of the church, we had around three assets: couple buildings, an empty lot. In the last 10 years we’ve been able to obtain 24 more additional buildings or lots, to be able to invest in the community we live in. It is vital how the people look towards the church today, not the government. They realize the government doesn’t have the answer. When the church takes a stand like this, that we will invest in our community, it is for the benefit of our community to uphold what we’ve been doing for the last 30, 40 years here.
New Life Covenant has purchased in the last 10 years over 24 buildings or lots. Cleaned them up, remodeled them to be able to bring in ministries to meet the needs of our community. So I’m a firm advocate that the churches are stake holders and they should be involved in the community. When they find an empty building that has been foreclosed, how can we turn it around and save it and bring more families back here. Because it’s a community, but a family has to be in that community to be able to call it a community.
MS: What has it meant for the single parents, the kids, the families in this community?
WDJ: Here’s what it’s meant for the community as a whole. We were able to drop crime rate just in our community. We bought a building that alcohol was being sold on the corner. The church bought it four years ago and we were able to transform that corner. The crime rate went down close to 60% I’m told by the police department just because we purchased one building.
Imagine several others. We’ve converted some buildings for single mothers. Humble Park has over 40% of single moms so that’s a great need and they’re being displaced because the rent is so high. Tomorrow morning we’re opening up one of our buildings, a grand opening for two single moms that will be able to live in totally remodeled, furnished apartments. Totally inexpensive, we’re charging rent for $350 a month for these single mothers. In addition to that we bought a home and we’ve got homeless women and children. 35 homeless women and children live in another building.
The church is doing everything possible to maintain hope. I believe that’s the key. And if we can do that here, in Humboldt Park, imagine what I can do in the city as a mayor of the city of Chicago. To be able to galvanize stake holders, churches, businesses and entrepreneurs to bring them to the table because everyone here in our city is concerned in the direction we’re going.
MS: Glad to have coffee with you this morning. And we’re believing in the victory for you, come next year!
WDJ: Amen. Thank you so much. I appreciate you.