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Preckwinkle freed to push reform

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle explains last month why she will not be running for mayor City Chicago. |

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle explains last month why she will not be running for mayor of the City of Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

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Updated: September 5, 2014 6:17AM



‘Imeant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful 100 percent!”

It’s a line from a Toni Preckwinkle favorite: Dr. Seuss’ “Horton Hatches the Egg.”

And it’s her answer to the persistent drumbeat: Will the Cook County Board president change her mind?

I hear it from the movers and shakers. She hears it on the street. Critics of Mayor Rahm Emanuel hope Preckwinkle may yet take him on in the 2015 mayoral race.

“No,” she said as we caught up at Petro’s, the proudly retro Greek diner she favors. She is happily free, she says, from the polling, speculation and trash talking. It was “distracting.”

Over a glass of milk and chocolate cake (it was a rough day), she dived into her favorite wonky issues: criminal justice reform, health care and economic development.

She touted CountyCare, the expansion of Medicaid to low-income people who had been previously uninsured — 95,000 people added to the rolls in 18 months.

She has initiated a partnership between the seven counties in northeastern Illinois, Joliet and Chicago. The Chicago Metro Metal Consortium has won a federal “Manufacturing Community” designation that gives the region a “leg up” on a $1.3 billion national fund to help communities attract and expand private investment and increase international trade and exports.

Preckwinkle is passionate about keeping people out of Cook County Jail, working on diversion strategies with the Illinois Supreme Court and other stakeholders. About 93 percent of the population is awaiting trial, 70 percent for nonviolent crimes. Many can’t make bail. “It’s our kids that are in the jail. It’s black and brown boys.”

The jail currently houses 8,800 inmates, she noted, down about 12 percent since March of 2011. “We need to focus our resources on the people accused of violent crimes. For people who are not accused of violent crimes we have to look at alternatives to detention.”

Preckwinkle may not be eyeing the mayor’s office, but the former 4th Ward alderman is watching City Hall. She’s a critic, for example, of Police Supt. Garry F. McCarthy’s strategies.

“It’s not just about …the number of police on the street. It’s also about how they treat the communities they police. And why is it that black and brown boys get arrested for stuff that white kids would never get arrested for?”

With $1 million in her political war chest, she plans to back aldermanic candidates in the 2014 citywide elections. “Somebody in the City Ccouncil has got to talk about policing strategies.”

Still, it’s “extremely unlikely” she will endorse for mayor.

The Nov. 4 gubernatorial contest is another matter. She is no fan of GOP nominee Bruce Rauner. “We’re not gonna get any help from him on the issues that we really care about.”

She’ll “make a substantial [financial] commitment” to Gov. Pat Quinn’s reelection effort.

Some black elected officials are quietly unhappy with Quinn. If they don’t pitch for him this fall, he’s done.

Is Preckwinkle worried? “You know, Bruce Rauner has a lot of money,” she replied. “And black and brown communities are poor, and a lot of people are struggling, so there are people who are willing to take the money and not think about the consequences of their decision. So that’s discouraging.”

She won’t name names, but you know who you are.

Email: LauraSWashington@aol.com



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