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Preckwinkle takes responsibility for missed campaign tax payment, slams Emanuel on charter schools

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle Mayor Rahm Emanuel . | File photo

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel . | File photo

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Updated: February 19, 2014 6:07AM

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle assumed responsibility Friday for an embarrassing “oversight” made by her 2010 campaign — in failing to forward to the IRS $10,384 in payroll taxes collected from campaign staffers.

The mistake prompted the IRS to file a federal tax lien against Citizens for Preckwinkle and, at least initially, to tack on a $25,930 penalty. The fine has since been reduced to $1,367, which was paid Friday. The tax liability was settled last fall.

Preckwinkle said the oversight occurred during the monthlong transition between the November 2010 election and her December swearing-in.

“We believed that it was critically important that the transition be paid for by our political campaign and not by the county. Unfortunately, IRS commitments due as a result of bulking up for the transition were not paid,” she said Friday.

“It’s discouraging. I take responsibility for the fact that this wasn’t done and we’re taking care of the [fine] that remains today. ... Inevitably in human enterprises, mistakes are made and this was surely a mistake and an oversight for which I take responsibility.”

Preckwinkle denied that the mistake would weaken her reputation as a fiscal manager.

“We’ve had staff at Citizens for Preckwinkle 15 years before that and four years hence and we never had any problems with the IRS, so this is an aberration,” she said.

The federal tax lien is one of several damaging revelations about Preckwinkle to emerge in recent months amid persistent speculation that she could challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

She was also forced to fire a $145,000-a-year executive hired to overhaul the county’s computer system after learning that same employee had been accused of shaking down a subcontractor at the Chicago Public Schools.

On Friday, Preckwinkle declined to speculate on the source of the leaks, nor would she blame “opposition research” by the Emanuel campaign.

But under questioning, Preckwinkle launched into another attack on the mayor’s education policies — this time for a massive charter expansion on the heels of nearly 50 school closings.

“It looks terrible. ... It lends credence to the criticisms that were leveled against the school closures in the first place — that it was an opportunity to transfer resources from public, neighborhood schools into charter schools,” she said.

Emanuel argued again this week that the new charters are planned for neighborhoods where public school schools are overcrowded and that he’s a “firm believer in parents having choice in education.”

Preckwinkle, a former school teacher, doesn’t buy it. She argued that the proliferation of charters is exacerbating the switch to what she calls a “dual” system with an ever wider “performance gap” between white and black students.

“Those parents who are most savvy, best-educated and know how to negotiate the system have the resources to get their kids into charter schools, magnet schools or contract schools, and those who are less able negotiate the system end up in neighborhood schools that are now less-resourced,” she said.

“And furthermore, the kids who are maybe the most committed and who have the most family resources behind them are absent from those schools. So the school population changes and the kids who go to those schools are from the families least able to negotiate the system. It creates even more of a duality in our school system than existed before.”

Two years ago, Preckwinkle bemoaned the city’s “miserable education system” and said Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy had offered a solution to crime and violence that was to “just arrest everybody.”

Last year, Preckwinkle intensified her critique of Emanuel’s education agenda, arguing that the seven-day teachers strike had provided the excuse for a sweeping school-closure plan that “weakens our public schools.”

On Friday, Preckwinkle was asked whether she was prepared to rule out a 2015 race for mayor.

“I’m running for re-election for the job I’ve got because I think there’s still work to do,” she said, refusing to answer the question directly.

She was then asked whether she believes there’s a case to be made against Emanuel, whose support among African-American voters who helped put him in office has declined because of school closings and persistent crime.

“I’m not going to talk about the mayor’s re-election. ... I make the case for myself. He should make the case for himself,” she said.

Pressed on whether she intends to support Emanuel for re-election, Preckwinkle said, “He hasn’t asked me.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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