Marlon Watson, leader of the Freedmen Descendants of Chicago, and Pastor Anthony Williams of King International Ministry are calling on Chicagoans to draft state Rep La Shawn Ford to join a growing field of candidates challenging Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Thursday night, they expect a group of about 100 Chicago residents to gather at The Quarry Art & Cultural Center, 2423 E. 75th St., to garner support to launch Ford’s run for mayor.
The event was announced in a press release earlier this week and across social media channels run by Watson and Williams, who said Chicago needs “a mayor who will bring healing to prosperity to all Chicagoans.” The press release also said it’s time for a change in leadership as “violence is out of control” in the city.
“We’re calling on him to seek this opportunity to run,” Williams said in a phone interview. “The people are calling on Ford.”
The Austin lawmaker, who ran for mayor in 2019, is “open” to running again, according to Watson and Williams, who said they have spoken to him about their plans.
In an interview with AustinTalks, Ford confirmed he is considering a run if the group driving the efforts to draft him “is able to pull something together.”
“It becomes a different campaign when the people are drafting you,” Ford said. “When people draft a campaign, it means they are invested in the city … it means we would have an agenda to make the city a better place.”
Williams, who recently lost his primary run for state Senate where he ran as a Republican, said he believes Ford has a great chance of winning because he would run under a “people-driven campaign.”
The goal is to get 200,000 signatures of support and raise at least $500,000 over the next few months, according to Williams and Watson.
Ford said he was not aware of Thursday’s event and will not be in attendance. He said he did not know of the fundraising efforts underway, but he had told them it would take “a couple million dollars to win.”
Williams and Watson said Ford is in a similar situation as when Harold Washington was running for mayor in the 1980s. “He didn’t call on himself, the people drafted him to run.”
It is not the first time the two have interacted with the state lawmaker. Last year, Ford joined the American Descendents of Slaves (ADOS) Chicago movement, led by Watson, in their petition to get the state government to provide emergency relief to Black Illinois residents and declare violence a health crisis.
Watson, president of Freedmen Descendants of Chicago formerly ADOS, participated in last year’s “We Want to Live” walk to urge the White House to declare violence a health crisis. According to ABC7 Chicago, the “walk” was led by Pastor Williams. Watson said Ford donated to this effort last year and was a key player in getting Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to sign the health equity law HB 158 in April 2021.
Williams has also joined Ford several times to speak about the ongoing violence faced by Black communities in Chicago, including a statewide tour in 2018 that sought to hear the people’s thoughts on violence.
Speaking about how Ford’s candidancy was proposed, Watson said a group of about 20 Black organizations primarily from Chicago’s South and West sides want Ford to run because he is “somebody they trust.” Freedmen Descendants of Chicago and King International Ministry are some of these organizations, he said.
The conversations among leaders of these groups started last year as they discussed who they would support for mayor, Watson said. “We want somebody who’s gonna help the Black community deal with the violence and poverty we’re dealing with.”
Watson said it was a consensus to pick Ford, adding “La Shawn has been there for the city of Chicago and Black people since he’s been in office.”
If Ford, who’s served in the Illinois House since 2007, gets drafted, he will be the 10th candidate to join the race against Lightfoot, who was elected in 2019. The latest candidate to get into the race, Ald. Sophia King (4th), announced her candidacy this week through a campaign video, as reported by WBEZ.