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Loyalty vs. pragmatism in Preckwinkle’s picks

Updated: April 22, 2012 10:19AM

Toni Preckwinkle is a rare popular politician at a time when voter love is in scarce supply. Even so, in Tuesday’s primary, the coattails of the first-term president of the Cook County Board couldn’t carry some of the high-profile candidates she endorsed.

Preckwinkle’s candidate for Illinois Supreme Court, Joy Cunningham, lost resoundingly to Mary Jane Theis.

Her candidate for Cook County Circuit Court clerk, Ricardo Munoz, was soundly defeated by incumbent Dorothy Brown.

Her pick for the 8th Congressional District seat, Raja Krishnamoorthi, lost to Tammy Duckworth.

A bright spot for Preckwinkle, however, was winning a fight on her Hyde Park home turf, where her chosen candidate, Christian Mitchell, was leading against Kenny Johnson in the 26th District state House race.

Preckwinkle is no political novice. She spent years in the Chicago City Council and ousted incumbent County Board President Todd Stroger in 2010. That victory alone earned her credibility as a reformer.

But even though she resoundingly and unapologetically defeated the son, she explained to me why she remained loyal to John Stroger, Todd’s dad and predecessor, even though he was a Machine man and she was a progressive.

It had to do with loyalty. When Preckwinkle was a young graduate student, the elder Stroger took time to tutor her in the ways of the toughest game in town.

She never forgot that.

In this primary, that same loyalty in some cases trumped Preckwinkle’s pragmatism.

It explains why she stuck with Krishnamoorthi when others went with Duckworth in the 8th Congressional District.

And why Preckwinkle backed Cunningham for the Supreme Court while Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic ward bosses threw huge support to Theis.

Cunningham and Krishnamoorthi had helped Preckwinkle in the past, so she helped them.

Do endorsements matter? On Tuesday, as he waited out the GOP presidential votes at Obama headquarters in downtown Chicago, David Axelrod answered this way:

“I think it makes a difference at the margins,” he said.

Axelrod added, Ultimately candidates rise and fall on their own . . . and so as much as anything, it requires good judgment on the part of the endorsers and the candidates that they pick.”

You don’t endorse if you don’t also intend to win. And there is a danger in spreading yourself too thin.

Emanuel, another politician getting a lot of constituent love these days, prides himself on being unsentimentally strategic.

(Even though some of his own aldermanic endorsements in 2011 didn’t exactly pan out either.)

Though Emanuel and Preckwinkle each backed some of the same horses in Tuesday’s primary race, including Mitchell, in the big-ticket contests of Supreme Court and the 8th Congressional District, they were on opposite teams.

And there isn’t a lot of warmth between these two. But a lot of individual ambition.

And each knows being able to deliver your people can speak to your strength. And add to your clout.

For Preckwinkle, Tuesday night was not a night of addition.

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