clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Preckwinkle undecided whether to dump Austin from party post: Difference between ‘investigation and a criminal charge’

Preckwinkle said all she knew was what her staff shared with her Wednesday, and she hasn’t “made a decision on the subject” of whether or not to ask Ald. Carrie Austin to step down as vice chairwoman of the county party.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, left, and Ald. Carrie Austin, center.
Sitting next to Ald. Carrie Austin, center, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle shakes hands with Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) just before Preckwinkle was named chair of the county Democratic Party last year. File Photo.
Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Just a day after Ald. Carrie Austin’s 34th Ward office was raided, Cook County Democratic Party Chairwoman Toni Preckwinkle was leaving the door open to Austin staying in her party leadership post.

Preckwinkle said all she knew was what her staff shared with her Wednesday, and she hasn’t “made a decision on the subject” of whether or not to ask Austin to step down from her role as vice chairwoman of the county party.

In January, Preckwinkle, who’s also president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, stripped embattled 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke of his judicial slating powers after he was charged with attempted extortion.

“There’s a difference between what is apparently an investigation and a criminal charge and that’s something to consider,” Preckwinkle said at the first of two pre-slating meetings.

Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, Ald. Carrie Austin and Ald Toni Preckwinkle
Ald. Freddrenna Lyle, Ald. Carrie Austin and Ald Toni Preckwinkle chat during a City Council meeting in 2009. File Photo
Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Austin hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing. The alderman, who is second in tenure behind Burke, supported Preckwinkle’s mayoral run and was stripped of her post as chair of the City Council’s Budget Committee when Lightfoot took office, though she pledged her allegiance to the new mayor.

As a member of the party’s executive committee, Austin could have attended the Thursday meeting, held at the offices of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134 — but didn’t.

Ald. Carrie Austin.
Ald. Carrie Austin’s 34th Ward office was raided by federal agents on Wednesday.
Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

The event drew candidates seeking to knock Clerk of the Circuit Court Dorothy Brown from office as well as candidates for circuit and appellate judge spots.

Board of Review Commissioner Michael Cabonargi, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner Mariyana Spyropoulos, lawyer Jacob Meister and state Sen. Iris Martinez all sought the party’s endorsement in the race for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk.

Brown was dumped from the party slate in 2015 after reports that the FBI had seized Brown’s county-issued cell phone. Austin stood by Brown at the time, saying “she’s still my slated candidate.”

Brown won re-election without the party’s endorsement.

Several candidates seeking to oust Brown from her post took shots at her nearly 20-year tenure in the office.

Carbonargi said Brown’s office, which he called the “guardian of more than a million boxes of civil and criminal files,” has “delayed in finding or failed to supply the files that these defendants … need to move forward with their appeal.”

Martinez warned the party’s members that “the political winds are changing my friends — we can do better and we must do better.”

Spyropoulos didn’t mince words.

“The current office of the clerk’s office has failed on many levels and the basic one is losing the public trust,” the water reclamation commissioner said. “Let’s be clear that the person charged with maintaining a smooth and efficient court system should not be under federal investigation. I think we can all agree on that.”

Along with noting allegations of job-buying in Brown’s office, Meister made his comments a little more broad.

“We’re at a crossroads right now — this party is at risk of becoming irrelevant,” Meister said.

“The voters in Cook County and the city of Chicago have spoken very clearly and very loudly to all of us and said, ‘We do not want business as usual, we want reforms in office, we want people who are going to clean it up not live by backroom deals of anointed candidates of the party for political reasons that work within the party…’”

Federal agents remove boxes of material from office of Ald. Carrie Austin.
Federal agents on Wednesday afternoon remove boxes of material from the Far South Side office of Ald. Carrie Austin.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

This article has been updated to correct the misspellings of Mariyana Spyropoulos’ and Michael Cabonargi’s names.