The race for Chicago mayor took a turn toward the bizarre on Thursday as bickering between two candidates over petition challenges escalated to accusations that a high-profile adviser offered money to the other campaign if it would drop its challenges.
The claims of dirty politics grew after an Instagram account posted three video clips that purported to include the voice of former state Sen. Rickey “Hollywood” Hendon, an aide to wealthy businessman Willie Wilson’s mayoral campaign, offering money to a staffer for candidate Ja’Mal Green if Green’s campaign dropped its legal efforts challenging the validity of Wilson’s petitions.
Hours later, Wilson tried to distance himself from Hendon by releasing a statement saying, “I do not condone bribes in any form” but his campaign acknowledged Hendon is still a paid adviser.
The skirmish was the latest between ambassadors for Wilson and Green, a community activist. Wilson and Green are two of 11 candidates running to become Chicago’s next mayor in the wide-open Feb. 28 election.
Among the first public fights Green and Wilson had this election cycle was Green’s effort earlier this week to get Wilson kicked off the ballot by having a campaign emissary formally object to Wilson’s nominating signatures. Hendon challenged the signatures filed by Green and another candidate, Chicago Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th, though Wilson has claimed he had “nothing to do with” Hendon’s objections.
Flash-forward to Thursday, when the Instagram account named “chicagomediatakeout” posted the video clips with the caption: “Willie Wilson’s campaign manager Rickey Hendon trying to bribe a Green staffer to drop the legal challenge against Willie Wilson and to join their team.” Hendon is not Wilson’s campaign manager but is a paid adviser, Wilson campaign spokesman Richard Boykin said.
Hendon does not appear in person in the video clips, but a male voice that is purportedly Hendon’s says over the phone to a man on the other end of the line: “If you withdraw, I will take care of you. And you can tell me how much you would need.” That person, listening on speaker while wearing a Green campaign shirt, was identified later by Green’s camp as campaign volunteer Kevin Hobby, who filed the objection to Wilson’s signatures.
Following the release of the clips, Wilson posted a statement on Twitter saying he didn’t condone bribes and that “the comments made by former Sen. Rickey Hendon were not authorized by me or my campaign. This is a personal issue between Sen. Hendon and Mr. Green.”
Hendon did not respond to a request for comment. Green said in a statement Thursday that he was “glad someone was able to capture the corrupt openness Ricky has.”
“Let me just say that the old way of politics is pulling some desperate moves to drag me and my campaign down, going so far as to offer financial compensation to my ally,” Green wrote. “This city’s corrupt nature shows its face almost out in the open now. The sleazy deals, the open bribery, the big money talking, it needs to end! That’s why I am running for mayor in the first place.”
Green’s campaign added: “We want the proper authorities to investigate this matter further.”
In the clips, the voice identified as Hendon says, “Willie’s gonna make it. Ja’Mal is not. … We can work something out.”
Hobby, the man in the Green shirt responds, “What you offering?”
The voice on the line then says, “Well you know, everybody can use some help financially, so I would help you there,” before noting Wilson’s personal wealth. The person on the line continues, “If you withdraw, I will take care of you. And you can tell me how much you would need. You know, don’t nobody want you to lose money because Ja’Mal ain’t gonna be on the ballot bro.”
The person speaking over the phone goes on to say he had 25 people poring over petitions for Green and Sawyer.
“I never miss,” the voice says.
As the mostly one-sided conversation continued, the voice that is supposedly Hendon’s concludes, “The people who call me about you, they’ll tell you, ‘Rickey Hendon keeps his word, whether it’s good or bad,’ so I’ma keep my word. So that’s why I’m kicking Ja’Mal off, because I told him that. … I guess he thought I was joking. I’m serious.”
Green and Hendon have a history dating back to the 2019 election, when Green and Wilson were both running for mayor and Hendon challenged Green’s petitions. That sparked what became a war of words on social media.