Preckwinkle talks to the Crusader

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Toni Preckwinkle

Affirms plans to fire police chief if elected

By Erick Johnson

It’s been a long campaign season for mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle. Her staff has been in overdrive trying to keep her polished and strong as the scandal involving Alderman Edward Burke continues to threaten Preckwinkle’s quest to become Chicago’s first Black woman mayor in the city’s 182-year history.

This campaign season, she has been invited to 28 mayoral forums. She’s participated in 16 of them. She has seven forums to go before the big day. That’s a lot even for Cook County’s most powerful Democrat.

In between a grueling schedule, she stopped by the Crusader office on February 4 for an hour-long interview to discuss her mayoral campaign, its challenges and the issues. In her trademark navy blue skirt suit and white pearls, she spoke with her usual confidence, but at times, showed her softer side with laughter.

With so much on the line in the critical weeks leading up to February 26, Preckwinkle was mainly all business in getting her message across and defending her reputation as a serious, qualified mayoral candidate.

For the past 18 years, Preckwinkle has served two terms as 4th Ward alderman and two terms as president of the Cook County Board. In the past two years, her power and influence has dramatically risen having been elected to a third term as Cook County Board president and having been elected as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. She spent $500,000 in campaign donations to help her protégé, Kim Foxx, oust Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in the 2016 Democratic primary.

As the new “boss” of Cook County politics, Preckwinkle has her eyes set on winning the biggest political job of them all: mayor of Chicago. But it may not be as easy in winning City Hall.

William Daley and Susana Mendoza are much bigger names than Bob Fioretti, the opponent she crushed to win a third term as Cook County Board president. While many believe Preckwinkle is very fit to run the city, others believe that she won’t win because some voters simply don’t like her.

Then there is the scandal involving Alderman Burke, who was charged with attempted extortion after he allegedly persuaded a Burger King franchise owner to give Preckwinkle a $10,000 campaign donation that she initially failed to report to the Illinois State Board of Elections. In addition, Preckwinkle admitted to speaking to Burke before she hired his son, Ed Burke Jr., to work in a $100,000-a-year job with the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Department. In January 2018, Edward Burke, Sr. raised $116,000 for Preckwinkle at a fundraiser in his home.

As a mayoral candidate, everyone is after her. The media. Her political opponents. Her critics. Even in the Black community, Preckwinkle is facing some opposition. She knocked Dorothy Brown off the ballot before Brown responded with an endorsement to Amara Enyia.

Congressman Bobby Rush (D-1st) endorsed her opponent, Bill Daley, in a move that may cut into Preckwinkle’s Black voter base, which may be eroding. When asked about it, Preckwinkle said this in six seconds.

“I think people are free to endorse whomever they wish. Congressman Rush made a choice, Dorothy Brown made a choice. Those are their choices. We’re just going to move forward.”

Former President Barack Obama endorsed Preckwinkle during her re-election campaign for Cook County Board president, but with less than 20 days before the election, will he come to her rescue and disappoint Daley, Obama’s former White House Chief of Staff?

Perhaps the biggest question for Preckwinkle is whether she can win the Black vote. Working-class Blacks view her as insensitive and out of touch with people of color. Affluent Blacks like her, but this gives her the image of being part of Chicago’s Black bourgeoisie.

“I think we’re doing pretty well,” Preckwinkle said. “The polls show that we’re consistently in the lead. We’re doing well on fundraising. We’re doing more than $3 million. That’s made us competitive. We’re about to put a new ad on television. Isn’t that right? (Yeah). I think we have momentum in the campaign, and I think we’re just moving ahead until Election Day.”

Then there are Preckwinkle’s political moves that have misfired, backfired and transpired whenever she pushed to advance her agenda among Cook County’s five million residents.

Her television advertisement claiming credit for forcing the release of the Laquan McDonald video has led some in the Black community to accuse Preckwinkle of being a self-serving opportunist who’s desperate to win the Black vote. But her failed soda tax, budget layoffs and her successful effort to oust Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin may come back to haunt her in the Black community on Election Day.

One political move that has not sparked criticism is Preckwinkle’s plans to fire Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson if she wins the city elections later this month. She doubled down on the promise during the interview with the Crusader.

Preckwinkle first promised to fire Johnson on December 14—one week after the police misconduct trial of three Chicago officers ended at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building. Preckwinkle said that Johnson refused to acknowledge that there was a code of silence in the city’s police department.

“I like Eddie personally, but I think the Chicago Police Department needs new leadership because we have to acknowledge that there is a code of silence, and we can’t address challenges that you don’t acknowledge,” Preckwinkle said. “I just think that we need a police force that is more accountable. We haven’t done enough in professionalizing our police department and providing them opportunities for professional development, particularly around crisis intervention and de-escalation strategies. On the supervision side, we have to invest in more training. In some districts, we have 30 officers on the street and one sergeant, and the best practice is eight officers on the street and one sergeant.

“We got to invest in better supervision for our officers. It’s hard to have a well-functioning organization if your line staff is not supervised. We have to hold our police department accountable. Nationally, in two-thirds of the murders, somebody is charged. Some cities do better, some do worst. But in the city in Chicago, it’s less than 20 percent of the murder cases where someone is charged. These are the most violent crimes in the city. We’re not doing very well as a police department in addressing this terrible challenge. And for (police) shootings, it’s less than 10 percent. Everybody on the street knows that basically if someone get shot or killed, (the suspect) is going to get away with it. They have eight chances out of 10 of getting away with it.”

Preckwinkle said she is opposed to the police department building a new state-of-the-art $95 million academy in West Garfield Park.

“My view is that we need better training for our police, but we don’t necessarily need to spend $95 million on a new facility,” Preckwinkle said. “When I came in office as County Board president, we put a hold on all of our capital projects so we could review them and determine whether they aligned with my priority.”

As a mayoral candidate, Preckwinkle has promised several times to reopen the seven mental health clinics that Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed in 2012 to save the city $3 million. Several of those clinics were located in predominantly Black wards.

“We have to move towards reopening the clinics. This was sold to the public as cost-saving. But it’s not cost-saving. It’s cost-shifting. What we found is the people who weren’t getting their treatment, weren’t getting their meds ended up in the crisis emergency room at Stroger Hospital or possibly acting out and ended up in our criminal justice system. So it wasn’t saving money. It was shifting cost to the county to our public health and our criminal justice system.

“Since they closed these seven clinics, some community-based organizations have stepped up and tried to fill the gap. We need to work with those organizations, and we need to work with the county as well. The county in our Medicaid expansion program included behavioral health services, and we’ve made a big investment in that we didn’t have that much of a footprint before.”

In light of the acquittal of three officers in the Laquan McDonald case, Preckwinkle points out her efforts with the 27-member Judicial Retention Committee which worked with the predominantly Black Cook County Bar Association in opposing the re-election of Judge Matthew Coghlan because of his work as an assistant state’s attorney and his conduct on the bench.

Coghlan’s ruling not to grant a hearing to tortured victim of disgraced Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge was twice overturned by an Illinois Appeals court. It was the first time in 28 years that voters ousted a Cook County judge seeking retention.

Preckwinkle supports raising Chicago’s minimum wage to $15 an hour (a law is in place to raise the minimum wage in Chicago to $13 an hour in July).

“I put forward a plan to raise it to $15, by raising it by .50 cents every six months until we reach the $15. I will bring a family of four above the poverty line,” Preckwinkle said. “It’s not extravagant in any way. It’s reasonable.”

As far as finishing the long-delayed $1 billion Red Line extension project, Preckwinkle said instead of building new elevated tracks, the city could possibly share the existing tracks that are used by the Metra Electric line that sits in the middle of the Bishop Ford expressway.

“When communities are not well-connected to transit, it makes it very hard for people to get to work,” Preckwinkle said.

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