Toni Preckwinkle ‘confident’ in party slate, focusing on transit plan for 2020

Preckwinkle sat down with the Chicago Sun-Times to talk about 2019, including federal investigations into some county party members and what she hopes to achieve in 2020.

SHARE Toni Preckwinkle ‘confident’ in party slate, focusing on transit plan for 2020
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle talked to the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday about a range of topics, reflecting on 2019 and looking ahead to 2020.

Sun-Times file photo

For Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the wide-ranging federal investigation that has ensnared some members of her Democratic Party is a numbers game.

There are over 3,900 elected offices in Cook County, Preckwinkle said, and “the people who’ve been charged are, I think, three elected officials.” Even counting “other people who are rumored to be on the verge of being charged,” she said, “that’s nowhere near even 1%.”

She added: “I mean, listen, it’s why it’s so discouraging … that people are under investigation for bad acts. That’s discouraging. It’s also discouraging that my great and good friends in the media provide no context for this.”

Preckwinkle sat down with the Chicago Sun-Times last week to talk about 2019, including the federal investigations of some members of the county party and petition challenges against the party’s slated candidates. She also discussed what she hopes to achieve in 2020.

So far, Ald. Ed Burke (14th), former state Rep. Luis Arroyo and state Sen. Tom Cullerton all face federal charges — Burke for racketeering, Arroyo for bribery and Cullerton for embezzlement. But others, including state Sen. Martin Sandoval and Joe Berrios, the former Cook County assessor and Preckwinkle’s predecessor as chair of the county party, are under federal scrutiny.

Preckwinkle put the federal investigation into Berrios into that same numbers game when asked if she regretted supporting him: “Everybody has to be responsible for their own conduct, but, you know, I guess I’d put it in that context.”

And are the feds coming after her? “Of course not,” Preckwinkle said.

She’s not worried about her political mentee, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, or the party’s slated candidates, either.

Though the first-term state’s attorney faces three challengers in the Democratic primary, “she’s been a great state’s attorney — we couldn’t have done this criminal justice reform work without her,” Preckwinkle said in the Sun-Times interview, conducted Friday.

All her opponents “are running against her from the right, so I think that’s indicative of the good work that she’s done.”

Despite petition challenges against Foxx, Clerk of the Circuit Court candidate Michael Cabonargi and others, Preckwinkle said the party remains “confident in the petition packages we presented to the Board of Elections.”

Preckwinkle and her county team have kept busy this year, focusing on getting their fair transit pilot plan and the South Suburban Economic Growth Initiative up and running. Those were both her proudest achievements of 2019 and two areas of focus she named for 2020.

Based on findings from the 2018 South Cook County Mobility Study, the fair transit plan aims to increase ridership and transit access to the southern parts of the city and county by reducing fares on the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines and increasing the frequency of service to and from south Cook County. To do that, it would enlist the help of regional transportation partners like Metra, Pace and, Preckwinkle hopes, the CTA.

The board president and Mayor Lori Lightfoot had “a conversation about a number of opportunities for collaboration in July” and another conversation in August, Preckwinkle said.

The two have both identified making sure there’s a complete count for next year’s census as a priority. The two executives’ staffs have been working on racial equity incentives.

The county has dedicated $4 million in the last two years to its census work and created a commission. It likely will allocate more money to community-based organizations for their work, Preckwinkle said.

The Hyde Park Democrat cited two census-related worries: the loss of federal dollars based on decreased population and the likelihood of the state losing a congressional seat, possibly two. The last time the state lost a congressional district, the new map removed a seat from “below I-80.” This time, she fears a deleted district would be “above I-80,” possibly from Cook County.

Other “opportunities for collaboration” may include that fair transit initiative and getting the CTA involved. Preckwinkle said the county has offered to “compensate our service agencies for losses they may suffer” from trying to implement the plan.

A fair transit plan, she said, would advance racial equity.

“We live in a profoundly segregated region and … segregation is an economic drag on our region,” she said.

“All the South Side of Chicago and south suburbs are disproportionately black and brown, and they’re not transit starved but they’re surely underserved,” Preckwinkle said, adding she wants to “increase opportunities for people by providing them with much better public transit.”

The Latest
The dead included a 3-year-old boy who was killed when someone in a vehicle fired shots during an apparent road rage incident.
Longtime cast member from Chicago is left out of the show’s opening while on leave for a play.
The 21-year-old was found with multiple gunshot wounds about 9 p.m. in the 300 block of West 110th Street, where a 30-year-old man was fatally shot just hours earlier.
The Sox said Kopech will be ready for spring training without restrictions.