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Preckwinkle denies trying to bully Lightfoot out of mayor’s race

Ron Powell, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881, endorses County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for mayor Thursday during a news conference at the Daley Center Plaza. | Fran Spielman for the Sun-Times

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Thursday flatly denied that she’s trying to “bully” Lori Lightfoot out of the mayor’s race and rejected Lightfoot’s attempt to brand her as an old fashioned party boss.

“We haven’t offered Lori Lightfoot or anybody else any jobs in the administration,” Preckwinkle said after accepting the endorsement of the 34,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 881.

“I’m focused on running a strong campaign that reflects my progressive values.”

Lori Lightfoot (left) and Toni Preckwinkle | Sun-Times file photos
Lori Lightfoot (left) and Toni Preckwinkle | Sun-Times file photos

Lightfoot, on Thursday, laughed off Preckwinkle’s denial.

“I’ll never sit idly by while people tell lies about me. And I’m never gonnna succumb to a bully. Just ask Rahm Emanuel how well that strategy worked,” she said.

Video by Fran Spielman

Preckwinkle, meanwhile, also denied that she tried to punish Fritz Kaegi, who defeated her longtime ally, Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios, by leaving Kaegi’s name off the Democratic Party’s first campaign mailer.

Preckwinkle serves as chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization.

“Fritz Kaegi will be on our subsequent mailings. We had a policy in the past of including people who contributed to the mailings. Fritz Kaegi has contributed to the mailing. He’ll be on the next one,” Preckwinkle said.

Preckwinkle challenged a reporter who demanded to know why other Democratic candidates who failed to make a cash contribution were included on the party’s first mailer while Kaegi was left off.

“That’s not true. You are mistaken,” she said.

Fritz Kaegi | Rich Hein/Sun-Times
Fritz Kaegi | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Preckwinkle also stayed on message when asked whether she was concerned about Amara Enyia gaining momentum, money and exposure because of the celebrity endorsements she has received from Chance the Rapper and Kanye West.

“I’m focused on my campaign and delivering my progressive message to the people of the city of Chicago,” Preckwinkle said, using the same line she used to respond to Lightfoot’s bullying charge.

Earlier this week, West donated $73,540 to Enyia’s longshot campaign, following the lead of his friend and collaborator, Chance the Rapper, whose celebrity endorsement elevated Enyia in the crowded race to replace Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Enyia promptly used the money to settle a $73,540 debt to the Illinois State Board of Elections stemming from filing fees and penalties never paid that must be resolved before she can get on the mayoral ballot.

The following day, Lightfoot branded Preckwinkle a political bully.

“There’s a rumor floating around that I’m going to step down and take a deal … as some person in a Toni Preckwinkle administration,” Lightfoot said during a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago.

“Let me be clear: That’s never happening. It was false the minute it was said. And what it shows, frankly, is the kind of machine-style bullying that has no place in the future of this city.”

After the speech, Lightfoot emphatically declared that she would never trade her integrity for the job of corporation counsel or anything else in a Preckwinkle administration.

“That’s wishful thinking on the part of people who, frankly fear my candidacy. I’m an independent person. I’m not gonna be beholden to anyone. And I don’t need somebody to hand me a job,” she said.

“The insulting part about that is that it suggests that I’m going to hand over my integrity to somebody like Toni Preckwinkle. My parents worked way too long and hard to provide each of us with the tools we needed to be successful. I’m not gonna retreat from any party boss who’s gonna try to bully me out of the race.”

The UFCW Local 881 endorsement is Preckwinkle’s second from a major union.

In return, she promised to be a mayor who “actually listens to and advocates for policies that shape the lives of real working families.”

“That includes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour,” she said at a news conference at the Daley Center Plaza.

Local 881 President Ron Powell called Preckwinkle a “champion for working men and women” who will keep their interests front-and-center as she navigates the “choppy waters” ahead.

He was apparently referring to the $1 billion spike in pension payments that will confront Emanuel’s replacement.