- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

In 1986, when an Asian storeowner threatened a black female customer with a gun, Willie F. Wilson helped stage a boycott that forced the owner to close for seven weeks. In 1990, Mr. Wilson resigned as co-chairman of Sharon Pratt Kelly's mayoral campaign when she insisted Marion Barry resign as mayor after he was busted in a hotel smoking crack and fondling a woman not his wife. In 1994, Mr. Wilson was one of three ministers who officiated at the marriage of Mr. Barry to Cora Masters who are also members of his congregation, Union Temple Baptist Church. In 1998, Mr. Wilson supported Tony Williams. Indeed, Mr. Wilson is a predictable commodity in election-year politicking, as he can be counted on to back the winners. This year is way different. This year Mr. Wilson is the candidate.
"After much serious prayer and anguishing over the plight of our city," he said Monday, "I announce my candidacy for the officer of mayor." The backdrop to his announcement D.C. General Hospital could be construed as spiteful. The Williams administration closed the hospital last year despite intense pleas from Mr. Wilson and other prominent leaders. Mr. Wilson milked the scene for all it was worth, even callling the mayor insensitive. This is the same minister who last year helped to lure the mayor into the lion's den (that is, Mr. Wilson's church) for a meeting about health care. What ensued was a nasty scene, with police having to literally rescue the mayor from an ambush by a den of hecklers in a house of worship, no less. About 200 people attended Mr. Wilson's announcement as a write-in candidate, cheering him, praising God and waving green-and-white banners. They were not unexpected. When Mr. Wilson became pastor of Union Temple in the late1970s, the congregation was a few-dozen strong. Today, it reportedly stands close to 8,500 a testament to his preaching and his politics.
Mr. Wilson's demagoguery is near legendary inside the Beltway. He launched an unsuccessful recall effort against two black members of the D.C. Council in 1989 who would not support a resolution praising the Nation of Islam. He once called economist Andrew Brimmer, Bill Clinton's chairman of the D.C. control board, "the foolish Negro at the top," and referred to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and two other conservatives as "Ku," "Klux" and "Klan."
He's no Jesse Jackson (which is a blessing in and of itself for D.C. voters), but Mr. Wilson can certainly talk his way into and out of politically dicey situations. His support for Mr. Barry, whose racially branded politics helped bring the city to its knees, is unwavering. When asked Monday at his announcement about Mr. Barry's support of his candidacy, Mr. Wilson said we'd be hearing from the former mayor in a "number of days." Meanwhile, Mr. Wilson has not been on the stump. When a reporter asked for last week's campaign schedule, he was told there is none. If Mr. Wilson doesn't soon show his face to the voters, they just might come to think that his candidacy is a whim, a folly to perhaps satisfy his ego or get the campaign season going.
But do not be fooled. Mr. Wilson, his family, friends and congregation gave his candidacy much thought and prayer and those campaign signs didn't print themselves overnight. Mr. Wilson just might give Mr. Williams a run this go around. Union Temple Baptist Church and its members are very active throughout the city. They blocked the 14th Street Bridge during the city's crime epidemic, when youths and other citizens were being shot with illegal guns apparently coming from Virginia. They minister to teens and addicts, and help the spiritually hungry. The congregation, which long ago outgrew its building on 14th Street SE in Anacostia, holds one of Washington's most popular and long-standing summer events, called Unifest. Many members of the church either live in the District, work for the city or used to work for the city and therein lies the paradox of the Wilson-Williams campaign.
While Mr. Williams, as incumbent, has a ready-made pool of voters in all eight wards, Mr. Wilson, pastor of an 8,500-member congregation, does not. In fact, many members of Union Temple cannot vote for Mr. Wilson because they live in what D.C. residents jokingly call Ward 9 Prince George's County in Maryland. And, while Mr. Wilson can shout all he wants about Mr. Williams being insensitive to "the hopeless, the disappointed [and] the disgusted," he needn't shout so loud unless he's addressing the issues.
The reality is, Mr. Wilson hasn't talked about the issues. He hasn't said where he stands on school choice and tax breaks for churches, or term limits and crime prevention. He hasn't even said where he stands on health care other than vowing to reopen D.C. General Hospital, which isn't saying much at all. Time is running out.
One thing he would have, however, is the ear of every green-eyed Democrat and Republican who yearns to see Mayor Williams lose. And, if this is the Barry wannabe those voters believe he is, having thorough knowledge of the Good Book and the Barry Book, Mr. Wilson will play his hand as close to his vest as possible, which might not be easy. When old-school Baptist preachers are yearning to preach, they can't stay quiet for very long.

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