Just weeks after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s pension reform measure failed to move forward in Springfield, the county’s lobbyist at the capitol is out of work.
Derek Blaida resigned from his job on Friday, said Preckwinkle spokeswoman Karen Vaughan, who added that “we’re grateful to him for his years of service,” but declined further comment.
However, according to multiple county sources familiar with the matter, Blaida was forced out because of the failure of Preckwinkle’s pension reform bill.
The bill would have hiked employee retirement ages and pension contributions, while reeling in retirement benefits. But it preserved a compounding, cost-of-living increase that state and city retirees have been denied under legislation that passed the General Assembly last year and earlier this spring.
The measure came under fire from House Republicans who viewed the compounding cost-of-living increases as too generous. It was also opposed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
As the session ground toward its final days, Preckwinkle threw in the towel and decided to try again during the December veto session, after the fall election.
But the failure of the General Assembly to act evidently drew Preckwinkle’s ire, which honed in on Blaida, the sources said.
When reached by phone Tuesday, Blaida denied he was forced out.
“Truthfully and honestly, I resigned. I’ve been in Springfield and the county for seven years. I have honestly passed on just a tremendous amount of fabulous opportunities because I love what I did,” Blaida said Tuesday. “I’m telling you, I resigned to explore other great opportunities.”
He added that Preckwinkle “was my friend before she was president and she’s my friend today.”
County records suggest Preckwinkle was satisfied with his performance in December. That’s when she granted him a $28,000 a year raise, boosting his yearly pay to $150,000.
Blaida is just the most recent staffer to decamp in recent months. Lydia Murray, Preckwinkle’s chief information officer, abruptly resigned without explanation in December — just weeks after she was honored by Preckwinkle at a public affairs luncheon. Maureen O’Donnell, her bureau chief of Human Resources, was fired in February.
Preckwinkle has also had turnover in the chief of staff position. Current chief of staff Kimberly Foxx is Preckwinkle’s third since taking office in 2010.
Last year, Preckwinkle fired MaryNic Foster, the county ethics chief, who was trying to punish Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios — a Preckwinkle ally — for putting relatives on his payroll.
When asked why Blaida was out, Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who is friends with Blaida, said: “I have no idea, you’d have to ask the president.”
But Suffredin praised Blaida’s work and said he played a key role in advocating for the county’s fledgling low-income health care plan.
“I think he was a remarkably talented person who did a lot of things for us,” Suffredin said.