Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board, got a standing ovation Monday at the White Eagle Banquet Hall in Niles.
Quite a bit, I’d say, considering Preckwinkle is getting increasing pressure to run against Rahm Emanuel in 2015.
The dinner at which Preckwinkle made a surprise appearance was the 40th Annual Ed Kelly Sports Banquet. The crowd of 700 was a racial and ethnic mix, though predominantly white, not unlike Chicago’s 47th Ward, where Ed Kelly ruled the roost for decades.
Headliners included Bears’ legend Gale Sayers, Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull, daughters of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, Senate President John Cullerton and Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey. But they were far outnumbered by dozens of business leaders, hundreds of union members, and Catholic priests.
It was because of Ed Kelly — not the groaning platters of pot roast and chicken — that they came. Kelly turns 90 in August but looks 60 and booms, “I still feel like I’m 40!”
The former boss of the Chicago Park District and Democratic Party powerhouse for decades still knows which way the political wind blows in this town.
Why was Preckwinkle there?
“She’s a very old friend. It’s not political,” he assured me. “Really.” Everybody was invited, Kelly said. The governor. The mayor.
Preckwinkle seemed to have a lot of friends that night. Mayor Emanuel, on the other hand, not so many, judging from people who, unsolicited, walked up to volunteer their views, offering adjectives like “high-handed” and “arrogant.”
One word, however, was used more than any other.
It was “schools.”
Much has been reported about the anger of African-Americans, especially on the South and West Sides, about neighborhood school closings. But not about white anger.
The 47th Ward — as just one example — is 87 percent white. The current alderman is Ameya Pawar, who very often supports the mayor. But he was not surprised when I called the next day and described what I’d seen and heard.
“I think a lot of neighborhood school parents would like to have greater attention to neighborhood schools,” he said. “They want quality high schools where they live” and not be “dependent on applying to selective-enrollment schools” in other parts of the city.
“People don’t want to leave,” Pawar said, “but are willing to pay higher suburban taxes for schools offering equity and stability.”
Like, if you live in the New Trier district, all your kids are able to attend New Trier for an optimal education.
Chicago parents don’t want to frantically shop outside their neighborhood, navigate the competing forces of charters and selective-enrollment schools, to fight for a good placement for their kids. Most can’t pick up the phone, like GOP candidate Bruce Rauner, and clout their kid into Walter Payton.
Neighborhood schools shouldn’t keep being stuck with the short end of the stick.
The mayor has done many things right. Bringing Whole Foods to Englewood. Reducing shootings. Building digital labs.
But the school issue — like his brook-no-dissent style — is his Achilles heel.
Preckwinkle may not run to unseat him.
But the people who rose from their seats applauding were sending a message.