She's got it all, folks. Tarring her as a political hack, a boss and simply more-of-the-same is off base. There are things to call her out on, but not the most important things: experience, temperament and ethics. She's got a rare package that's hard to find in Cook County.
Don't waste her.
I met her for the first time 19 years ago when she was 4th ward alderman and committeeman. I walked into her Hyde Park-Kenwood ward office which was in a reused building that appeared to be a grocery store or a car showroom or some such at one time. I'd called her first--and she was ready when I got there. She was sitting at a desk in the middle of a huge room surrounded by glass. She didn't do anything behind "closed doors."
I liked that.
I sat down and stated my business. I gave her a very brief rundown of my background and then told her I'd like to have her endorsement for a countywide judgeship I was running for. She asked me only one question, a question that was important to her. "Were you endorsed by the IVI-IPO?"
Namely, Independent Voters of Illinois--Independent Precinct Organization, a good government political organization that's been known for eons for its support of integrity, fairness and independence--during some of the roughest times in Chicago's political history.
Yes, I was, I said.
She told me I had her endorsement, too, explaining a few logistics of what I could expect. Her endorsement covered a fairly large swathe beyond her ward, and went into a few other wards--the committeemen of which she had a relationship. And a few weeks later, I sure did win that whole area, although I didn't win the election countywide.
Many years later she called me and asked me if I thought she could win an election for Cook County board president. I sure thought so, I told her. "Spend your time convincing suburban woman of who you are and what you'll do. You'll win," I said.
And she did that and she did win.
She also asked me for a rather hefty contribution. I said I wouldn't give it to her all at once, but that I would be a consistent attendee at her fundraisers. And I was. The contribution I ended up giving her was what she wanted, but I got to visit some interesting places and meet some knowledgeable people--and see old friends--and eat some good food for the money, too.
She hasn't had to run very hard since then. She's had very little competition in two more go-rounds, and she's probably gotten a little rusty. But make no mistake, she'll know what to do as Chicago's mayor.
She put a patina on the Cook County Board that's made it a respectable body of lawmakers. Which it never was before.
We can call her out on some things--is there anyone with any political power that we can't?--and then put them aside. The sugar tax was a lousy idea the way it played out: taxing some drinks without sugar and not taxing some with sugar, for starters. Putting a carpetbagger like Michael Bloomberg on the air to tell us the tax would improve our health was pretty much beyond the pale in terms of talking down to some pretty street smart people here in Chi-town. And I wrote this award-winning piece saying so.
But she wasn't alone in instituting this craziness. And it's gone away. She and the board made a mistake. But it's been rectified.
She brought Stroger's sales tax back, but she also kept it away as long as she could.
Regarding playing footsie with Berrios and Burke? Let's put it in perspective. She won. What do you do when you get to be county board prez? Right or wrong, you don't win office and then tell them all to go to hell. They won office, too.
You watch them. And you watch your back. You deal with them. Maybe even play a little benign footsie with them. It's politics. But keep what I said above in mind: They won office, too.
And look what happened? One got run out of office by the voters (not to mention his daughter before him). And he lost his party leadership post. To Toni. And the other is going to be run out of office by the Feds.
And she's running for Chicago mayor. Albeit while some take issue that she had anything to do with them at all. I say forget about it.
I've been watching Cook County politics for many years, and I know a lot. And you can take it to the bank when I tell you that while she worked with these sorts of people, because she obviously had to, she is not like them. Whoever says she is, is for her opponent and they know better. Or they're for her opponent and they don't know anything at all.
Which brings me to an issue that has bothered me for eight years. Why didn't she run for mayor when we really needed her? When she could easily have beaten Rahm? She could have saved us from his barbarism, we've lamented.
I don't know the answer to that. But I prefer to think of it this way: She got eight years of experience running the county board under her belt. And that won't hurt her if she becomes mayor. That, coupled with 20 years as a Chicago alderman should make her darn near perfect as far as a background suited for the job.
Maybe her "mentorship" of Kim Foxx as Cook County State's Attorney wasn't the greatest idea in the world? Tell me which State's Attorney we ever had who was the greatest idea in the world? O'Malley? Daley? Partee? Carey? Devine? Alvarez? Hanrahan? To mention a few.
Maybe some identity politics has trickled in to her public persona. Well, that's Chicago, not to mention Cook County these days. She doesn't stand alone getting on a high white horse. Or a black or brown one.
And do you really think the Chicago Teachers Union is a bad endorsement to have? Standing with teachers against a nefarious Chicago political machine is quite honorable in this City. Think about it.
Not to mention what she's done with the dirty, filthy (literally and figuratively) Forest Preserve District of Cook County. Read this post by one of my fellow bloggers and best friends. You'll get an idea of what kind of mayor she'll make--working on my biggest City of Chicago issue: housekeeping.
As in regularly changing light bulbs in the street lamps, smoothing out the sidewalks so we oldsters can walk without falling and breaking a hip, cleaning the CTA (how, I do not know....) and all the rest of the basics that make a city livable, and which I wrote about here in another award-winning post.
Toni Preckwinkle understands this city. She knows what we need. And we know what she has to do. And she knows we know what she has to do. She knows our vulnerabilities, our strengths and weaknesses. And we know hers. And that's a good place to start in making life better on the Third Coast and parts west.
She knows how big our big shoulders can be in this hog-butcher to the world, a City that will break your heart at every turn, and so imperfect--like a beautiful woman with a broken nose.... And while I glean from the Chicago poetry of Sandburg and Algren, Toni Preckwinkle, I truly believe, can carry those big shoulders high overhead. She can carry them on hers.
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