Toni Preckwinkle is trying desperately to turn the page after being dragged into the federal corruption scandal that threatens to bring down Ald. Edward Burke (14th).
What better way to do that than to trumpet the behind-the-scenes role she played in exposing the police shooting of Laquan McDonald?
Preckwinkle has purchased $750,000 worth of time on commercial and cable television and social media for an ad that credits her for assisting investigative reporter Jamie Kalven in that quest.
As county board president, Preckwinkle oversees the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
She used that authority to first describe the autopsy results to Kalven then, as soon as it was legally possible, release the report that showed that nine of the sixteen shots fired by now-convicted Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke were fired into McDonald’s back.
That information helped Kalven keep the heat on City Hall and persuade a judge to order Mayor Rahm Emanuel to release a shooting video seen around the world that the mayor was trying desperately to conceal.
The rest is history.
“Sixteen shots, nine in the back. Facts that the police and city officials tried to bury,” an announcer states over video of McDonald walking down the middle of the street before being shot, followed by still shots of Emanuel, fired Chicago Police Superintendent-turned mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy and the autopsy report.
“It was Toni who made sure Laquan McDonald’s autopsy went public. It was Toni who called for the dash cam footage to be released. Toni demanded the police chief be fired and helped oust the state’s attorney for not doing her job. Toni Preckwinkle: A mayor who does what’s right.”
By highlighting the role she played in exposing the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, Preckwinkle is not only changing the subject. She’s firing up her base in the African-American community.
Their outrage helped force Emanuel to fire McCarthy, ousted State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and may well have persuaded the embattled mayor to choose political retirement over the uphill battle for a third term.
Emanuel’s exit paved the way for Preckwinkle’s belated entry into the crowded race for mayor.
Kalven said Wednesday he hasn’t seen Preckwinkle’s first commercial of the mayoral campaign.
But he argued that both Preckwinkle and a “law enforcement whistleblower” played pivotal roles in exposing the false police narrative that ultimately triggered an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department culminating in a consent decree outlining the terms of federal court oversight over the Chicago Police Department.
“She took steps to find out what was in the autopsy at my request. She reported back to me — and that was a critical, critical piece of information in my reporting. And then, the moment I was able under law to request the autopsy, I got it. My FOIA request was immediately processed. That was Toni as well,” Kalven said.
Kalven acknowledged that he “gets more credit than I deserve” for exposing “a story that really took a long time to get traction.”
“The autopsy was really what broke the story. The video, which had a huge impact politically, basically corroborated the earlier reporting,” he said.
During an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times last month, Preckwinkle talked openly about the role she played in assisting Kalven, who lives in the South Side ward that Preckwinkle represented in the City Council for nearly 25 years.
Preckwinkle started the interview by declaring her intention to dump Police Supt. Eddie Johnson because he “refused to acknowledge that there was a code of silence in the police department.”
Then, she let loose about the help she provided to Kalven in exposing the “police narrative” that followed the shooting of 17-year-old McDonald that turned out to be false “from the bottom to the top.”
Three police officers are now awaiting a decision on their bench trial for allegedly participating in the cover-up.
“It was not true that Laquan McDonald was taking aggressive action toward the police officers when he was shot. He was walking away or stumbling away and he was shot in the back,” Preckwinkle said then.
“I’m grateful that Jason Van Dyke was found guilty of his murder. But he’s the first police officer in 50 years to be found guilty of murder, and I don’t think he’s the first officer in 50 years to have murdered one of our citizens. We have to hold our officers accountable for their bad behavior. And we can’t allow police officers to condone and cover up that bad behavior.”
Preckwinkle’s campaign has been scrambling for nearly a week to explain why the $10,000 campaign contribution that Burke allegedly strong-armed from a Burger King franchise owner was publicly reported, only after the feds lowered the boom on Chicago’s most powerful and longest-serving alderman.
Preckwinkle aides also struggled to explain why their version of how the campaign handled the $10,000 that Burke allegedly pressured fast-food kingpin Shoukat Dhanani to donate as part of a fundraiser Burke hosted at his home for Preckwinkle’s re-election as county board president still does not jibe with the government’s account of the transaction.