A year ago, Toni Preckwinkle ruled out seeking another term as Cook County Board president, but on Wednesday she refused to say whether that door remained slammed shut.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do,” she repeated when pressed on whether this would be her final term.
And the Hyde Park Democrat shrugged off a Chicago Sun-Times report that her shellacking in the mayoral race was so severe that even one of her own campaign staffers voted for Lori Lightfoot.
“So you found one unhappy camper,” Preckwinkle said.
Preckwinkle discussed the failed mayoral run, her future — and the fate of her protégé Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx — in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
Last March, Preckwinkle told the newspaper that the term she wound up being elected to in November would be her last. On Wednesday, Preckwinkle refused to say whether that is still the plan.
“You know, I’m looking forward to the next four years,” Preckwinkle said when asked if this term would be her last. “We’ve got a lot on our plate, starting with, frankly, our work on the Census. Billions of dollars are at stake not just for us in the county but every taxing body within the county all the cities towns and villages all the school districts and not to mention our congressional delegation.”
Beyond raising awareness on the Census to make sure everyone is counted, Preckwinkle listed focusing on the county’s healthcare and criminal justice reform efforts and economic development in the south suburbs as chief among her concerns.
Preckwinkle’s mayoral campaign was dogged by donations she’d taken from embattled 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke, criticism that she didn’t speedily address sexual assault allegations against her former chief of staff, John Keller, and failure to win key endorsements in the home stretch.
And then there was that campaign staffer whom the Sun-Times reported voted for Lightfoot, saying some on Preckwinkle’s campaign were “too ideological” and didn’t understand what “normal people” wanted to hear.
Preckwinkle brushed that aside Wednesday.
“We had dozens of people on the staff and I’m very grateful to them for their good work and, you know, this was a tough campaign undoubtedly and I’m proud of the work my staff did … We’ve got a lot of work to do [at the county]— we’re going to do that over the next four years.”
She also expressed confidence that Foxx, who has suffered criticism over the Jussie Smollet case, will be endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party Precxkwinkle and will ultimately win re-election.
“She’s an incumbent, I think she’s going to be slated,” Preckwinkle said. “I strongly support the good work she’s done in her office, not just her refocus of the office on violent crime … but her exoneration of individuals who’ve been … ground up in our criminal justice system.”
That being said, the mayoral campaign — and the April 2 loss that left her winning only 20 of the city’s 2,069 precincts — taught the board president she’s “tougher” than she thought.
She cast the race as a “real opportunity to share my values with the people of Chicago and to focus on the importance of both growth and opportunity for the people of the city of Chicago.”
The County Board’s April 25 meeting will be the first for Preckwinkle since her loss in the mayoral race.
The Board has put together an ad hoc committee to make sure there’s a “complete count” for the upcoming census and allocated about $2 million to outreach efforts for it since a lot of federal funding formulas are based on population, Preckwinkle said.
And the Board president says the demolition of Fantus Clinic on the city’s Near West Side is part of a shift in not only providing good healthcare to the county’s residents, but also ensuring that that care is given in updated facilities.
As for her relationship with Lightfoot, Preckwinkle says she hasn’t spoken to the newly elected mayor since their joint appearance at a unity breakfast the day after the election and wouldn’t say exactly how she sees her relationship with her former opponent shaping up.
“Half the people in the county are residents of the city,” Preckwinkle said. “I worked with Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel on a number of issues particularly the concerns we both had about violence in the city. And I anticipate working with the mayor-elect. “