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Laura Washington: Preckwinkle DNC rumors were overinflated

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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The action was in Philly, but in Chicago, she was the talk of the town.

Monday night, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle sat next to Former President Bill Clinton as they watched First Lady Michelle Obama’s stellar oratory at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

When the prime-time cameras landed on Preckwinkle with The Man, my Twitter feed exploded: “That’s Toni Preckwinkle with Bill Clinton!”

OPINION

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“You must know everyone is talking about you,” I told her Thursday morning by phone. She responded with her trademark giggle.

Back home, the forever cynical, always spinning news media was in overdrive. The Daily Herald proclaimed: “Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle set tongues wagging Monday when she appeared next to former President Bill Clinton during a key, prime-time moment of the Democratic National Convention’s opening night festivities.”

“Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel upstaged by Toni Preckwinkle at DNC?” queried WGNtv.com. “And sitting to the left of former President Bill Clinton last night? Cook County Board President, Toni Preckwinkle, looking rather cozy.”

“Did Bill Clinton just tell Toni Preckwinkle that Chicago is hers?” the Chicago Tribune trumpeted.

The conspiracy crazed Chicago media and Rahm haters everywhere were salivating. Finally, the wicked wizard of Chicago was dead, dead, dead, at least politically.

Even better, Bill Clinton had delivered the final blow to his old friend and former operative, and invited Preckwinkle to dance on his bones.

True? I asked.

“It was serendipity,” Preckwinkle replied.

Her press people, she laughed, “will kill me for doing this … .”

Yes, the Clinton campaign had invited her to Bill Clinton’s box Monday night. The honor came in appreciation for Preckwinkle’s help in the Illinois presidential primary.

Bill Clinton arrived late, and Preckwinkle ventured over and sat down to offer a quick thanks. Then, “Michelle started speaking and, well… .” She had to stay put.

No political murder had occurred. Just “serendipity.”

So, how was Bill?

“He was really moved, especially by Michelle’s words,” she said. “His eyes welled up.”

The First Lady was indeed eloquent.

Preckwinkle was first drawn into the Clinton presidential orbit back in October 1991, during Bill’s first run, she told me recently over breakfast. She was a newbie Chicago alderman, and was invited to a fund-raiser for Clinton.

She brought her baby daughter along. “I had her on a backpack on my back. I went to this event and it was at, like, the Ritz.”

Hillary Clinton “was charged with sort of, keeping us engaged while we waited for Bill. And she gave one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard in my life. And a better speech than Bill,” she laughed. “And I thought, this is a very smart, intelligent person.”

Is she worried about Hillary?

“You know, she doesn’t have his common touch, and that’s made it, you know, a problem for her,” Preckwinkle conceded.

“The other thing is that the higher up you go, the harder it is for women, because, you know, if you’re assertive, you’re a b—-. And if you’re not assertive, you’re weak. You can’t win.”

Hillary will, she predicts. As one of Illinois’ most popular and powerful politicians, Preckwinkle can help. Illinois is a lock for Clinton, but Wisconsin will be in play. “That’s where we are going to send people, and I have volunteered to be a surrogate.”

So, about that question. It’s been asked a zillion times.

“I am not going to run for mayor. I am not going to run for governor.”

I guess a zillion and one is not the charm.

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