The state’s leading vote-getter and his political protege stood with Toni Preckwinkle Wednesday to help her make the case that she is the candidate for change in a change election because she has already delivered it.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) endorsed Preckwinkle, but that was hardly surprising. Both men are longstanding Preckwinkle allies and stalwarts of the Cook County Democratic Party she chairs.
The only news would have been if they had not endorsed her over Lori Lightfoot.
But the news conference at Preckwinkle’s River North headquarters gave Burnett an opportunity to try and help Preckwinkle re-claim the “We need change” mantra that Lightfoot rode to her stunning first-place finish in Round One of the mayoral sweepstakes.
Burnett recalled having joined forces with Preckwinkle, back when she was the 4th Ward alderman, to force then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s hand on the issue of affordable housing, which has since grown into a full-blown crisis in Chicago.
“It took us a year or so, maybe a couple of years, before we were successful in doing so. But Toni Preckwinkle had the heart, the courage to stand up to do what’s right for the people. … From that time on, I knew that she was a woman of courage,” Burnett said.
“As we say in the neighborhood, ‘She’s a person who be about it.’ She don’t talk about it. … She be about making things happen. … She has a track record of being about it — of getting things done. … At this time in our city, when we’re getting ready to deal with a large budget crisis with these pensions, we need somebody who can be about it. We don’t need somebody in office who’s gonna talk about it.”
By taking on the role of party chairman, Preckwinkle has given Lightfoot an opening to portray her as an old-fashioned party boss who took on the old boys club only to become a part of it.
“She aspired to climb the ladder of being a party boss and, as a consequence, made a lot of compromises along the way that have played out and show that she’s a very different person,” Lightfoot told the Sun-Times days before the Feb. 26 election.
“She makes very bad decisions about the people that she aligns herself with. Whether it’s Tony Rezko, whether it’s Scott Cisek, Scott Keller, her security chief and, of course, Ed Burke, Ed Burke Ed Burke.”
On Wednesday, Burnett made a dramatically different argument. He argued that Preckwinkle’s decision to succeed her longtime ally, former Assessor Joe Berrios, as chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization would pay handsome dividends for Chicago taxpayers if she becomes mayor.
“As a mayor, you have to be in a position to get resources for the city of Chicago. When you have contacts and connections to people throughout the country,” you’re in a better position to do that, Burnett said.
“The Cook County Democratic organization is the strongest Democratic organization in the country. That gives you contacts with congressmen, senators, governors, mayors, state representatives. Everyone [gives you] the respect to be able to bring resources back to the city.”
White said he has known Preckwinkle for over 25 years. He called her a “wonderful, wonderful administrator” of the second-largest county government in the nation.
“We need someone who’s gonna run the city of Chicago, who has experience. I believe that Toni Preckwinkle has all that is required to run the city of Chicago,” White said.
“I’ve known Toni for a long period of time. I believe in her. … The people of Chicago will benefit from her leadership.”
Preckwinkle said she’s grateful for the support of Burnett and of White, whom she called the “elder statesman in the African-American political community.”
Never mind that White’s office hired Joe Berrios’ sister and friend when newly-elected Assessor Fritz Kaegi fired them.
Preckwinkle then picked up where Burnett left off in arguing that she has delivered change while Lightfoot simply talks about it.
“I’ve done the hard work of increasing access to health care and improving the quality of care we’ve delivered. I’ve done the hard work on criminal justice reform. We have 4,000 fewer people in the jail than we did when I came in in 2010. That’s working with stakeholders to make change happen,” Preckwinkle said.
“Access to health care and criminal justice reform are the two big progressive issues across the country. If people are looking for somebody who’s implemented change, that’s me. You can talk about change all you want. It’s hard work to actually do it. And that’s what I’ve done.”