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Preckwinkle: 'It's a new day in Cook Co.'

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Toni Preckwinkle thanks the crowd after declaring victory to become the first woman elected Cook County Board President.

Pledging "it's a new day in Cook County," Ald. Toni Preckwinkle declared victory Tuesday night, becoming the first woman elected Cook County Board President.

"I'm proud to stand here as your next County Board president," the Democratic alderman told her supporters in a banquet room at the Chicago Holiday Inn Mart Plaza.

Preckwinkle had 62 percent of the vote, steamrolling former Republican state legislator Roger Keats, who had 27 percent, with 79 percent of the precincts tallied.

Before Preckwinkle took to the stage to declare victory shortly after 9 p.m., a recording of "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang played as the crowd cheered.

The applause and shouts of praise grew louder as she announced: "We're going to cut taxes, we're going to clean up county government by ending patronage and doing everything in our power to root out the waste and fraud that have cost taxpayers millions."

Savoring the history-making win will be short-lived. Preckwinkle must get to work immediately dealing with the headache ahead of her: a looming February deadline to close an estimated $300 million budget gap to keep the local courts and jail open along with the health and hospital system serving the poor and uninsured.

In doing so, she'll have to chart a course toward eliminating the remaining half cent on the dollar sales tax hike championed by outgoing board president Todd Stroger and hated by voters. The tax increase likely tanked Stroger's political aspirations, as he lost his bid for re-election in the Democratic primary to Preckwinkle.

While her rivals in the race - Keats and Green Party candidate Tom Tresser - said the half penny could be rolled back immediately and the budget still balanced, Preckwinkle insisted it's not fiscally responsible to lose the revenue stream right now as the county prepares to write a big check to settle a jail strip-search lawsuit and not to mention meeting pension and union contract obligations. She predicts the rollback will happen in 2012.

Beyond the budget, Preckwinkle takes the reins of a scandal-plagued office in need of an image makeover. She's expected to send out a flurry of pink slips to Stroger's political appointees - several with ties to his ousted deputy chief of staff Carla Oglesby, who is awaiting trial on public corruption charges for allegedly steering no-bid contracts to pals and her own firms.

Preckwinkle, 63, of Hyde Park, has served on the Chicago City council for 19 years and touts her independent credentials and rollercoaster ride with Mayor Daley - even voting against the controversial deal to lease the city's parking meters.

Preckwinkle takes office Dec. 6.