Motorists waiting for free gas at Mobil station on Green Bay Road.

A man who wants to be the next mayor of Chicago bought $1 million worth of publicity on Saturday, just like he did last month.

For the second time in several weeks, businessman Willie Wilson spent the million on free gasoline for motorists who lined up at designated gas stations in Chicagoland, city and suburbs, including the Mobil station on Green Bay Road in Evanston.

(Wilson had previously sponsored a $200,000 giveaway, just in Chicago, before pumping up the dollar value to $1 million and expanding the locations).

Chicago resident James Biddle was one of those in the Green Bay line, which stretched along Green Bay to Simpson, Payne, Noyes, and beyond.

Are we there yet?

“Wilson’s better than Lightfoot!,” Biddle shouted out of his car window.

While Biddle indicated he was a Wilson supporter, free gas or not, the good will generated by Wilson’s giveway, at least among those who didn’t see it as a stunt, was undeniable.

In fact, Chicago Mayor Lightfoot is pushing her own free fuel plan, up to 50,000 gas cards, worth $150 each, distributed via lottery. The idea is still pending in Chicago City Council, but might be approved next week.

Carol Rand, of Morton Grove, was another motorist in the Evanston line. Rand arrived at 7:15 am, and by 8:40 was pretty close to the fuel pumps.

Drivers said it was worth the wait to get here.

“I thought it was a good opportunity” to at least partially fill up her tank, Rand said.

At the previous Evanston giveaway, at the same place, the wait was sometimes two hours or longer, but this time, one of the volunteers at the station said those helping out were more organized, so things moved faster.

And while drivers were not supposed to line up until 5:30 a.m., this volunteer said some were waiting at the Mobil station as early as 3 a.m.

Evanston police were on hand to help with traffic control. The last gas giveaway cost the city $2,600 in police and 3-1-1 phone operator overtime.

Evanston officer on traffic control detail.

Each participating gas station was expected to handle several hundred cars, at $50 worth of gas apiece. The listed price at the Green Bay Mobil station was $4.79 per gallon.

Wilson has already declared his candidacy for Chicago mayor. A perennial candidate, Wilson unsuccessfully ran for that office twice, as well as for U.S. Senate, and even made a try for president.

Lightfoot has not officially declared for a 2023 re-election campaign, but is expected to do so.

One lesson from all of this: while oil and water may not mix, fuel oil and politics certainly do.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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