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Maybe Toni should run for mayor

Toni Preckwinkle Cook County Board President her office Chicago Ill. Thursday May 16 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board President, at her office in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, May 16, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 21, 2013 6:11AM

‘Become an early adopter,” the invitation urged.

The modest blue mailer was inviting supporters to the launch of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s 2014 re-election campaign.

The June 11 event at the Chicago Cultural Center is sure to draw a crowd. Preckwinkle is the most popular politician in Cook County, perhaps even in Illinois.

As I read the card, it occurred to me: Some of these early adopters will secretly wish that Preckwinkle would “early adopt” for a very different campaign — a bid for Chicago mayor against Rahm Emanuel.

I talk to many of Preckwinkle fans, who are also Emanuel critics. They would love to see her switch her sights and aim them at Chicago’s controversial chief executive. She’s the only one who could do it, they argue.

Right now, they are right. There is no other player on the political landscape who could mount a serious run against Rahm.

That isn’t going to happen, Preckwinkle has said repeatedly. The blue invitation would seem to seal that deal.

Halfway through his first term, Emanuel boasts of many achievements in the areas of job creation, economic development and school reform.

His critics are looking ahead to 2015, when Emanuel will bid for a second term.

One of them, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, declared war on Emanuel long ago. She has excoriated him at every turn, launched a voter registration drive, filed a lawsuit and spearheaded marches to beat the anti-Emanuel drum.

They need a candidate. They dance to the drumbeat of a recent Chicago Tribune poll that showed a drop in Emanuel’s job approval rating among the city’s voters, particularly among African Americans.

My mother, a Hyde Parker, did not vote for Emanuel in 2011. She’s been gunning for him ever since. She is looking for someone — anyone — to take on the mayor. Her frequent refrain: “Rahm Emanuel — I’ve got my eye on him!”

Preckwinkle does too. She has been one of the mayor’s harshest critics. Last week, she told the Chicago Sun-Times that the mayor had mishandled the school closings decision.

Emanuel has recruited many brilliant, young professionals to City Hall. He sincerely wants to improve the schools. He has brought new jobs and economic development to Chicago, though I don’t buy all the statistics that spin out at his regular dog-and-pony-shows — er, I mean, press conferences.

The mayor can also be an arrogant control freak, and a captive of the elites. Take his early declaration, for example, that he would close 54 Chicago public schools — before public hearings even began. Or take his heavy-handed refusal (at least publicly) to consider alternative plans, or acknowledge that CPS may not be equipped to take on such a massive, complex task.

When the Preckwinkle invitation landed on my desk, I was disappointed. Emanuel needs a credible opponent. Preckwinkle could give him a run for his millions.

A serious challenge in 2015 would make him a stronger, more patient leader. It would force him toward real compromise. He might even — gasp — lose.

Preckwinkle told the Sun-times, “I’m running for re-election for the job I’ve got.”

Preckwinkle’s early adopters might reply: Can we get you to change your mind?

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