January 27, 2009

Alderman Preckwinkle running for Cook County Board President

Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (A.B. ’69, M.A.T. ’77) is running to unseat incumbent Todd Stroger in the 2010 election for Cook County Board of Commissioners President. During the four-year term, the president presides over meetings of the 17-member County Board and supervises a variety of county departments.

Stroger won his seat in 2006 but has been criticized for tax increases. Preckwinkle, whose ward includes parts of Hyde Park north of East 55th Street, has been an alderman since 1991. Enjoying strong support in the community, she most recently won re-election in 2007 with over three-quarters of the vote.

Announcing her intentions earlier this month, Preckwinkle took her campaign into full swing after returning from President Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. She hired a fundraiser, is considering media consultants, and plans to hire a campaign manager. Preckwinkle pointed to “doing a lot of fundraising” as her campaign’s next major focus.

To date, Preckwinkle and Stroger are the only candidates publicly running in the February 2010 Democratic primary. However, County Commissioner Forrest Claypool has run in the past and is expected to make a decision about the race this summer.

Preckwinkle said her main reason for running is to help reform the city’s health care and criminal justice systems as well as the budget process.

“I think the people of Cook County deserve competent and passionate leadership,” Preckwinkle said.

Expressing her views on the county’s crime problems, Preckwinkle voiced concern over drug addiction and lack of education in incarcerated populations and advocated the exploration of alternative sentencing programs.

“We’ve got to figure out how to turn our criminal justice system into one that takes young people that have run afoul of the law and turns them into productive citizens rather than simply incarcerating them,” she said.

While she avoided taking an explicitly harsh tone against Stroger, Preckwinkle was critical of the county’s current state of affairs.

“I think our public health care system has been decimated over the past several years,” she said.

Preckwinkle also noted problems in the county budget. “We need professionalism and transparency in financial operations of the county,” she said. The nod to transparency could be aimed at Stroger, who drew criticism for hiring his cousin as the county’s chief financial officer.

In her tenure as an alderman, Preckwinkle has made affordable housing and a living wage her signature issues. She has often sparred with Mayor Richard M. Daley over these initiatives and has voted against several of the mayor’s budgets. Preckwinkle declined to say whether she would play up or down her criticism of Daley in the campaign, noting instead that the race is for a countywide, and not citywide, office.

In the University community, Preckwinkle gained attention in 2007 when she denied a proposal to name a Hyde Park street or other monument for Pulitzer Prize winner and former University professor Saul Bellow. Her denial of the plan cited Bellow’s controversial remarks on race.

Preckwinkle has gained support from Hyde Park’s other alderman, Fifth Ward Representative Leslie Hairston. Hairston campaigned for Preckwinkle in past alderman elections and served on Preckwinkle’s exploratory committee while she considered the run.

“Toni Preckwinkle is smart and a public servant with integrity,” Hairston said. “I don’t know anyone more capable of representing and overseeing the business of Cook County.”