A Pentecostal leader with controversial views about homosexuality is jumping into Chicago’s mayoral race. Rev. Wilfredo De Jesús, senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park, is planning to announce his candidacy Thursday at the park’s boathouse.
De Jesús, whose nickname is Choco, has a firm launching pad. New Life Covenant is one of the world’s largest Assemblies of God congregations. His team packs thousands of worshipers into the Roberto Clemente High School auditorium during six weekly services there. The church also runs dozens of social programs, reaching out to everyone from prostitutes to gang members, homeless people to prisoners.
De Jesús’s mayoral bid is beginning with efforts to extend his support to other evangelical churches, sources near the campaign tell me. He’s reaching out to pastors like Daniel Hill of River City Community Church, another Humboldt Park congregation. Hill promoted De Jesús’s campaign from the pulpit at River City’s main service yesterday.
De Jesús supporters have also quietly begun to collect signatures to get him on the February ballot, sources say.
What De Jesús isn’t doing—at least yet—is trying to push into the Democratic organizations of heavily Latino wards and districts, where he’d potentially compete head on against three other North Siders eyeing the mayor’s office: former Chicago Ald. Manny Flores, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez and City Clerk Miguel del Valle.
Winning over African American religious voters could also be an uphill battle. De Jesús worked for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, but State Sen. James Meeks says he’s planning to enter the mayor’s race. Meeks is senior pastor of Salem Baptist, a black megachurch on the South Side.
De Jesús’s church is not his only source of clout. He’s a commissioner on the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals. And his campaign already has an influential adviser, former Ald. Billy Ocasio, who left his 26th Ward seat last year to work for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.
Ocasio, a New Life Covenant member, pushed for De Jesús to be his City Council replacement. But Mayor Richard Daley took the unusual step of rejecting an outgoing alderman’s successor recommendation after gay leaders raised a ruckus. They were upset with De Jesús for leading a group of clergy members in a 2008 effort that helped derail a planned Chicago high school for queer students. De Jesús last year tried to explain to me why he opposed the planned school: “I felt that it was a form of segregation.”
Gay leaders also voiced concerns about De Jesús’s links to the Assemblies of God, a fellowship that considers homosexuality a sin. The pastor once told me the tenet stems from the bible. “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. De Jesús wasn’t immediately available to comment for this report.