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Preckwinkle rips mayor’s handling of school system, crime

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle Mayor Rahm Emanuel City-County Collaboratisummit earlier this year.  | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a City-County Collaboration summit earlier this year. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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Updated: January 8, 2013 6:26AM

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle delivered a blistering critique Thursday of City Hall’s performance on the two most troublesome issues facing Mayor Rahm Emanuel, bemoaning the city’s “miserable education system” and saying the mayor and his top cop’s solution to crime and violence is to “just arrest everybody.”

“Clearly this mayor and this police chief [Supt. Garry McCarthy] have decided the way in which they’re going to deal with the terrible violence that faces our community is just arrest everybody,” Preckwinkle said during an appearance at a Union League Club of Chicago luncheon where she reflected on her first two years in office. “I don’t think in the long term that’s going to be successful. I think we’re going to have to figure out how to have interventions that are more comprehensive than just police interventions in the communities where we have the highest rates of crime.”

The former alderman and history teacher also took aim at the Chicago Public Schools, pointing to low graduation rates.

“We have contented ourselves with a miserable education system that has failed many of our children,” she said. “I’m talking about the kids who don’t graduate, let alone the kids who graduate who don’t get a very good education even with a high school diploma.”

Preckwinkle’s emphasized that education can prevent crime by keeping kids busy and on track to find work.

“I think we’ve failed our young people and we’ve failed our young people because graduation rates are so anemic, particularly for young men of color … and . . . I think as a society, we have to focus more on our public education system and devote frankly more resources to it,” she said at a news conference after the luncheon. “We live in a country, unfortunately, in which we’re much more willing to spend money on keeping people in prison than we are educating them in our public schools, and that’s disgraceful.”

Preckwinkle, who this summer backtracked and apologized for saying the late President Ronald Reagan deserved a “special place in hell” for furthering the war on drugs, also later Thursday backed off her remarks made during the question-and-answer session at the luncheon.

At the press conference, she said her criticisms were not aimed at the mayor but as a “critique of all of us.”

Though when pressed, she said, “I don’t think we’re going to arrest our way out of our violence problems, no.”

Emanuel’s spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton later issued a measured response to Preckwinkle’s blast.

“Mayor Emanuel strenuously agrees that a holistic approach is necessary to successfully address crime, which is why he has taken numerous actions to improve our schools and the quality of life for all Chicagoans,” Hamilton said in an email to the Sun-Times. “His multi-part strategy ranges from improving early childhood education, providing a longer school day and creating re-engagement centers for youth, to delivering wraparound services, revitalizing the community policing program and working to prevent retaliatory actions by gangs. All of these work in tandem, but let’s make no mistake, criminals deserve to be arrested.”

A CPS spokeswoman did not return calls for comment.

Chicago has drawn national attention in the past year as teachers went on strike for the first time in a generation and shootings and murders climbed. Just last week, shots rang out at a gang member’s funeral, killing one of the mourners, and police have said they will treat gang funerals as “gang events.”

Police said arrests haven’t been going up dramatically. In fact, this year’s citywide arrest numbers are down 4 percent compared to the same period of 2011. And over the previous four years, arrests fell steadily from 221,915 in 2007 to 167,541 in 2010, according to department reports.

Preckwinkle’s decision to take a public shot at Emanuel over these two issues is not all that surprising.

Cook County’s two most powerful Democrats have had their differences since Emanuel was elected to a job that Preckwinkle, a former Chicago alderman, may someday covet for herself.

Shortly after taking office, Emanuel and Preckwinkle embraced a report they commissioned that concluded the city and county could save as much as $140 million a year — not including health-care consolidation — by joining forces on everything from purchasing, revenue collection and elections to facilities management, minority business certification and 311 service.

That was followed by a decision to work together to offer an expanded array of summer programs to provide a constructive alternative for kids at risk of falling victim to youth violence. During the news conference Thursday, Preckwinkle, who seeks to reform the county’s criminal justice system, pointed to those efforts.

Emanuel and Preckwinkle also teamed up to provide “reciprocal certification” that will allow the city to recognize minority contractors certified by the county and for the county to do the same for companies that have passed muster with the city.

When Preckwinkle led the charge to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana to ease overcrowding at Cook County Jail, Emanuel and McCarthy pushed through a plan to issue marijuana tickets.

But for all of that cooperation, there have been political tensions that have played out behind the scenes.

In a Sun-Times interview that marked her first year in office, Preckwinkle acknowledged that she failed in a quiet campaign to succeed former Mayor Richard M. Daley as chairman of the Public Building Commission, a panel charged with constructing and maintaining schools, police stations and other public structures in Chicago.

Contributing: Frank Main

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