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Preckwinkle’s bets angle at future jobs

Updated: April 27, 2012 8:07AM

The handicapping of the 2012 Illinois Democratic Primary is in full swing. The knives are out, the pundits are dissecting the what-ifs and would-be’s, and Toni Preckwinkle is taking her hits.

Since her 2010 election, the Cook County Board president has vaulted to the top of the popularity and power quotient. She is one of a sparse array of Illinois politicians who still command respect and trust.

Preckwinkle bet those commodities on a slew of candidates in the primary. Now inquiring critics want to know: If she’s so hot, why did she back a bunch of losers? Is she too loyal to be a hard-headed political operator? Does she have the chops to be a shrewd and effective party leader?

Her answer: Make lemons out of lemonade. Preckwinkle says she endorsed 59 candidates, and 47 of them won. “If I were a basketball coach, that would be a good record,” she told me Thursday.

She’s not a coach, but she knows how to spin. A look at the numbers shows that some of her “wins” were in uncontested races, and most of her highest-profile bets landed in the “loss” column.

Like Ricardo Munoz, her old friend and longtime Chicago City Council ally. He didn’t raise the money he needed to beat back a damaged, but entrenched incumbent. Raja Krishnamoorthi announced for Congress months before Tammy Duckworth jumped in. Preckwinkle stuck with him, unlike other top Democratic pols. Joy Cunningham was mowed down by an avalanche of campaign cash in the hot Illinois Supreme Court race.

Preckwinkle touted her winning judicial slate, with 13 victors in 16 races. The slate was African American, Latino, Asian and gay.

“We did better because we are slotting more diverse candidates,” she said.

That philosophy governed her primary picks. She knew some were long shots. After all, she was a long shot for her current job.

Remember, the Hyde Park progressive took searing heat from lakefront liberals when she successfully pushed Joe Berrios over Forrest Claypool for Cook County assessor in 2010. Her rationale: Berrios is a veteran champion for minority access to jobs, contracts and clout. Claypool had never even been at the table.

Voters care more about pols who are good bosses — of their government, not the back room.

That’s why Preckwinkle’s name is the No. 1 whisper for Illinois governor in 2014. She knocked down that theory with a chuckle.

“I’ve got the job I spent two years running for, and I’m going to run for re-election,” she said.

Preckwinkle says she wants no part of the heavy lifting and travel of a statewide post: “I like sleeping in my own bed every night.”

She could run for mayor and still accomplish that goal. Don’t count her out on that one.

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