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Lightfoot agrees to co-chair annual fundraiser for Democratic Party she campaigned against

Mayor calls it an ‘opportunity to build bridges’ to Toni Preckwinkle, the Democratic Party chairman and county board president, after some post-election feuding.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot addresses a peace rally at Daley Center Plaza on Monday.
Fran Spielman/Chicago Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she agreed to co-host the annual fundraiser for a Cook County Democratic Party she campaigned against because she wants to make a peace offering to the party chairman, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

“It’s an opportunity to build bridges,” the mayor told reporters, referring to the Nov. 5 event at the Chicago Hilton and Towers.

Lightfoot refused to discuss the deep freeze between herself and Preckwinkle or their recent efforts to thaw it with a face-to-face meeting.

“I just think we both recognize it’s important for us to try to find constructive ways to work together,” the mayor said.

“There’s a huge amount of overlap between our jurisdictions and there’s things I think that we can do productively together. I thought that from the very beginning and we’re gonna work on some of those things. ... It’s important that we work well together to deliver for our residents and we’re gonna work on doing that.”

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot (left) shakes hands with former mayoral candidate Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle after the April 2019 mayoral election.
Lori Lightfoot (left) and the woman she defeated in the mayoral runoff, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, shook hands at Rainbow PUSH the morning after the election. But relations between the two have remained strained.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Late Monday, Preckwinkle released a statement saying she is “honored to have Mayor Lightfoot serve as honorary co-chair of our party’s fundraiser.”

“Chicago is in Cook County and we both want to strengthen the Democratic Party by increasing voter turnout,” Preckwinkle was quoted as saying.

“The 2020 election is very important, not only nationally, but locally, and we all need to be on the same page in terms of what it will mean for our city and county to be successful up and down the ballot.”

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle were at loggerheads during the bitter mayoral campaign that featured several attacks Lightfoot viewed as hurtful and below-the-belt.

The feud continued, virtually unabated after Lightfoot humiliated Preckwinkle in the mayoral runoff, winning 74 percent of the vote and sweeping all 50 wards.

The primary issue — aside from hurt feelings and wounded egos — is their disagreement over bail reform and the July letter Preckwinkle sent to Lightfoot, complaining that the mayor and Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson were promoting a “false narrative” that portrays the county’s bail reform efforts as “the root cause for gun violence.”

The mayor has argued the issue isn’t about bail reform but about not “returning people to the streets who are wreaking havoc in neighborhoods.”

Last year, the fundraising gala was used to honor an unpopular political figure: ex-party chairman and departing Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios.

Then-mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot used the party’s decision to honor Berrios to lambast Preckwinkle.

Lightfoot branded Berrios the “poster child for bad government” for padding his payroll with relatives and “refusing to abide by any ethical standards” — in part, by thumbing his nose at the authority of the county’s inspector general and Ethics Board and fighting their restrictions at taxpayers’ expense.

She further accused Berrios of presiding over a flawed and unfair property assessment system that has favored the wealthy and politically-connected, at the expense of the average homeowner and the working poor.

The fact that Preckwinkle endorsed Berrios over Democratic primary winner and now Assessor Fritz Kaegi and leads a Democratic party that chose to honor him shows how “out of step” she is with everyday voters, Lightfoot said then.

“To laud his efforts in the face of that clearly documented history of ethical misconduct and harm to low-income and working class families ... shows a tone-deafness to the voters of this city. It says she’s not listening and doesn’t represent the kind of change Chicago needs,” Lightfoot said.

“Toni Preckwinkle is endorsing this honoring of Joe Berrios. She has stood up for him repeatedly in the face of overwhelming evidence . . . This kind of machine-style, we’ll-do-whatever-we-want, the-voters-be-damned attitude is not gonna be tolerated by the voters of this city.”

By leveling her first political broadside at Preckwinkle, Lightfoot served notice she had no intention of dropping out of the crowded race to replace then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel—even after she accused Preckwinkle of trying to “muscle” her out of the race.

The rest is history.

The Nov. 29 raid on the ward and City Hall offices of Ald. Edward Burke (14th), Preckwinkle’s political ties to Burke and the subsequent attempted extortion charge against the City Council’s longtime Finance Committee chairman catapulted Lightfoot into the mayor’s office.