By Giavonni Nickson
Cook County Board President and Chair of the Cook County Democratic Party Toni Preckwinkle lost the battle to become the first African American woman to lead the City of Chicago, but is still fighting for a path to move the city forward.
Former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot secured a landslide margin of victory over Preckwinkle in the April 2 runoff election. Lightfoot’s success, an incredible feat for a first-time candidate facing a seasoned politician, marks a historic win in the Windy City and symbolizes a progressive step forward. This makes Chicago the largest American city ever to elect an African American woman as mayor.
Of Chicago’s roughly 1.6 million registered voters, nearly 160,000 cast a ballot by mail or through early voting. Lightfoot’s lead after the early votes did not stir doubt for Preckwinkle supporters. However, on election night, Lightfoot’s sprouting lead induced a sober tone in a crowded room of Preckwinkle supporters.
Alderman Sophia King (4th Ward) and Campaign Chairman Ken Bennett opened the stage to engage Preckwinkle supporters during the election night campaign party in Hyde Park.
“This is not the outcome that we all worked so hard for and fought for, but that’s all right,” said King. “I am tremendously proud of President Preckwinkle. Nobody works harder than her. She is a true public servant, and her record speaks for itself. The best thing about tonight is that we still have a great leader who will still be President of the Cook County Board. She will still be the leader of the Democratic party, and she will continue to fight. We will be right behind her, fighting for years to come.”
Bennett echoed King’s spirit of optimism, “This is not a sad night because Toni Preckwinkle, who has fought for us, has had you beside her to fight for her and Chicago. Toni Preckwinkle is a leader willing to fight for Chicago, willing to fight for schools. Toni Preckwinkle has always believed that every child deserves a great education. She also believes that every neighborhood deserves a strong school. Toni Preckwinkle has always worked for good health care for every Chicago and Cook County resident. We haven’t lost anything because we still have President Toni Preckwinkle to represent us in this county and this city.”
“I’ve never had a position that I’ve been more proud of,” said Bennett about his role as campaign chairman.
Bennett championed Preckwinkle for being the original progressive and a founding member of the progressive caucus in the city council. Supporters vivaciously chanted Toni, Toni, Toni, while Bennett welcomed Preckwinkle to the stage.
Disappointed but not disheartened, Preckwinkle approached the podium to declare her plan to solidify the path for moving the city forward.
“I still believe in the power of public service,” said Preckwinkle. “It’s why I’ve dedicated so much of my life to it. It’s why I will continue to dedicate my life to it. I wake up every day, including tomorrow, just as I have for the last 25 years, fighting to advocate for and work for my constituents. That’s my motivation, and I will take it with me as I proudly continue to serve as your Cook County Board President.”
During the campaign, Lightfoot sought to label Preckwinkle as a part of the corrupt political machine. To dispel that label Preckwinkle stands proudly on her legislative achievement as a launching pad for progressive change in Chicago.
“We’ve made previously unthinkable change a reality, and there is more we can do,” said Preckwinkle. “We expanded healthcare access to hundreds of thousands. However, if we want truly healthy communities we have to move beyond the walls of a doctor’s office. We’ve overhauled cash bonds so that thousands of fewer people stand behind bars simply because they are too poor to pay for their freedom. We must continue to work collaboratively with all the stakeholders especially our community partners to address the factors that bring too many of our African American and Latin residents in contact with the criminal justice system. We must continue to fight for economic equity and infrastructure improvements and demand more opportunities for the underemployed and the unemployed.”
Preckwinkle maintains a commitment to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021, overhaul the city’s $100 million Workers’ Compensation program, and reform the city’s tax increment financing districts to free up money for city pensions.
In summary of her campaign, Preckwinkle stated, “This campaign was about real issues of working-class families throughout our neighborhoods. This was a campaign where support for an elected school board was a benchmark and commitment to affordable housing was a requirement.
“We focused not solely on big business but on real living wages. We didn’t just talk about being a world-class city, we acknowledged long-term institutional inequities that stop many of our communities from feeling that they were ever truly part of our city and what it has to offer. That’s historic. That’s something to be proud of. While those issues did not always dominate the press, they did shape this campaign. That’s why the work we’ve done and the values we fought for doesn’t end tonight.”
Preckwinkle declares that she will continue to fight as she did throughout this historic campaign.
“Keep fighting. Nothing worth fighting for is ever easy. It’s always worth it to fight for what you believe in, and I’m going to keep fighting too.”
Giavonni is a passionate freelance writer native of Gary IN. She covers business, politics, and community schools for the Chicago/Gary Crusader.