Toni Preckwinkle exploring mayor’s race ‘to make sure she can win’

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Consider it a “maybe.”

Four years after she dashed her supporters’ hopes, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is officially exploring a run for City Hall.

Preckwinkle will announce plans to form an exploratory committee for a run for mayor in the coming days, one of her representatives saidFriday.

The announcement won’t be a definite”yes” or “no” about her stepping into the race, the representative said.

Preckwinkle considered a mayoral run in 2014 but backed away from the direct challenge to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, because of a “commitment to reform” within the county.

Butfour years later, Preckwinkle is holding a better hand. Emanuel’s surprise announcement earlier this week broke the race wide open. And Preckwinkle has since picked up the reins to the Cook County Democratic Party.

A county source said petitions have already been printed and locals for the Service Employees International Union have committed to circulating them to gather signatures for the County Board president. SEIU is one of the unions that has an ownership stake in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Preckwinkle defeated former Ald. Bob Fioretti in the March Democratic primary and will run unopposed in theNov. 6general election.

She told the Sun-Times in March that her third term would be her last, though she didn’t say what plans she had for her future — retirement or otherwise.

Preckwinkle solidified her place in the county’s political structure in April when she took over as chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party. Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios held the post from 2007 until April, following his defeat in the March primary.

It’s the same party post that Richard J. Daley held during the decades he ruled City Hall, although it commands nowhere near the power it did in Daley’s day.

If Preckwinkle does decide to join the dozen candidates already running for mayor, she has the potential to reshape the field.

Jacky Grimshaw, who served as a top aide to former Mayor Harold Washington, said that Preckwinkle would be a “formidable candidate” because of her name recognition across the city, her proven ability to fund raise and her position as chair of the county’s Democratic Party.

“She has a strong record to run on, and the current cast of candidates got in the race contrasting themselves to [Mayor Rahm Emanuel],” Grimshaw said. “They’ll have to retool their positions, but Toni gets to start off her campaign building on the successes she’s had at the county.”

Preckwinkle has $339,372.82 in her campaign coffers, according to numbers from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a campaign finance watchdog.

That trails mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot, who has $552,031.46, and former CPS CEO Paul Vallas, who has$443,707.67, according to figures from the same site.

Her position as chair of the party also means that Preckwinkle may start off with a better relationship with the aldermen who serve as committeemen for the party — and access to the democratic party’s pot of gold, which currently has a little over $1 million in it, according to Illinois Sunshine.

That would give her a “broad base political network,” Grimshaw said.

If she runs, the 71-year-old Preckwinkle would be 72 by the time she is sworn in, meaning she’ll be about 76 by the end of her first term.

Another county source said Preckwinkle isn’t all in yet, because she “wants to make sure she can win and wants to make sure that others who would compete for the same votes will drop out.”

No one in the county is speculating about others joining the race. It’s “just a matter of when she will announce and when we’ll support her,” the source said.

But many are speculating about potential candidates from outside Cook County government joining the field, most notably state Comptroller Susana Mendoza. The Northwest Side Democrat has refused to say whether she is considering a run for City Hall.

Those who are actively considering joining the field include former Illinois Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, Cook County Clerk David Orr, and Aldermen Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Tom Tunney (44th).

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