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Preckwinkle camp sends conflicting signals about mayor's race

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s camp on Tuesday sent conflicting signals about her political future one day after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was quoted as saying Preckwinkle had assured him she would not run for mayor against him.

Kristen Mack, Preckwinkle’s government spokesperson, confirmed what the mayor told Early & Often.

“She has told him on more than one occasion that she has no intention of running for mayor,” Mack said Tuesday.

“What she says publicly is what she told him personally: She’s running for re-election to the job she has. She feels she has more work to do. County board president is the job she signed up for and she wants to continue to improve things with county health and the criminal justice system.”

But, a Preckwinkle political operative told a different story.

The confidante said Preckwinkle has assured associates she never told Emanuel she would not run for mayor against him and, in fact, the door to that marquee race is not closed.

“Sometimes, people hear what they want to hear,” a Preckwinkle confidante, who asked to remain anonymous, said Tuesday.

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“What she says she told him was, `I don’t like you, but I’m focused on my job.’ I suppose a reasonable person could have heard it the way he heard it, but she doesn’t believe she said it.”

For now, Preckwinkle’s singular focus is running for re-election as county board president. She’s unopposed in the Democratic primary and has roughly $1 million in the bank.

But, sources said Preckwinkle is being “urged on a daily basis” to challenge Emanuel in the Feburary mayoral primary.

That would require her to do what then-State’s Attorney Richard M. Daley did in 1988: Get re-elected to her current job, then turn right around and launch a mayoral campaign.

“If you shook her awake in the middle of the night tonight, she’d say, `no,’ but a year is a lifetime away and the door is not closed. She won’t give any indication before the [November] election,” said the Preckwinkle confidante.

Asked to rate the chances of a Preckwinkle campaign for mayor, the confidante said, “She’ll run if she believes she can win, if it’s what she wants to do and if everything she’s done in the county won’t be undone by a Stroger-type person. She would want to know better who was likely to take over and what would happen to the reforms she has put in place.”

The Preckwinkle adviser pointed to a countywide poll of 600 conducted at the end of January that showed a dramatic difference between approval ratings for Emanuel and Preckwinkle.

For the mayor, 44 percent of city voters surveyed approved and 33 percent disapproved. Countywide, Emanuel’s ratio was 48-to-27 approve vs. disapprove. For Preckwinkle, 67 percent of city voters surveyed approve and 6 percent disapprove. Countwide, her approval vs. disapproval ratio was 64-to-6 percent.

“If she gets 70-to-80 percent of the black vote, splits progressives and Hispanics and holds her own among white ethnic voters with union help, it’s hard to imagine she wouldn’t be able to put together enough votes to defeat him,” the Preckwinkle confidante said.

“But, she would have to kill herself raising $5 million-to-$6 million to run for mayor—and she would still be outspent significantly.”

Although the mayor’s support among African-American voters has plummeted and Preckwinkle is the challenger City Hall fears most, Emanuel told Early & Often last week that Preckwinkle had assured him privately that she has no intention of running for mayor.

Emanuel said he took Preckwinkle at her word, even though she’s been the most outspoken critic of the mayor’s school closings, charter openings, school budget cuts and the seven-day teachers strike that Emanuel’s bullying missteps helped to instigate.

“She has said that and I believe she’s a person of her word…I believe she’s not running. I also believe more importantly what she has said why she ran for county board president was the criminal justice system and health care and that her work is not done,” Emanuel said.

Pressed on whether he considered the former South Side alderman a legitimate threat, Emanuel pivoted to the $73 million he and Preckwinkle had saved taxpayers by forging cooperation between the city and county.

“I brought an idea to her [recently] we’re gonna probably work on. I think we should expunge juvenile records of misdemeanors [that are] non-violent. Today, you have to apply for it. You shouldn’t apply. If you have a minor misdemeanor and you’re a juvenile, clear the record. Don’t hang on these kids for a lifetime a problem. So, she said she wanted to cooperate on that. Even while you said [she’s been leveling] the criticism,” he said.

Emanuel sought to downplay Preckwinkle’s many criticisms as “differences of policy.”

He added, “It’s okay to have differences. I believe in school choice. I ran on these things….I knew that other people had different views….I was up-front and I delivered. The worst thing about politics is politicians who say something in an election, then do something different when they’re governing because it just became too politically hard.”

Emanuel attributed his declining support among black voters who helped put him in office to the “ripping effect” of 50 school closings.

“I knew when you did that it was gonna feel like an abandonment. But, there’s another abandonment. Abandoning kids to a school that wasn’t succeeding. It was tough. And I asked a lot of the public,” the mayor said.

“Trust me, I don’t want to close schools. I’m opening new schools. I didn’t want to be do it in the sense it was gonna be hard. But, what is harder is not what happens to me politically. It’s what happens to those kids.”