Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will announce her run for mayor this week, the chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus said.

Ald. Rod Sawyer (6th) told the Sun-Times he talked to Preckwinkle on Monday and the veteran County Board president told him she plans to enter the crowded race.

Another alderman, who asked not to be identified, also said they’d been told by Preckwinkle she is in.

A spokesperson for the Preckwinkle camp, however, would not confirm any plans. Other sources said Preckwinkle’s announcement is scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m.

“She has the ability to raise money. She has a decent message. But we also have a lot of people running or expressing interest,” Sawyer said.

Toni Preckwinkle (at lectern)

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, joined by several members of Congress, including (from left) Raja Krishnamoorthi, Robin Kelly and Bobby Rush, at a news conference Monday. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times

Preckwinkle already had a press conference scheduled for Monday before news broke of her expected entry into the race. She appeared Monday afternoon at Stroger Hospital with several members of Congress to release a report on the potential impact of changes in the Affordable Care Act.

After the news conference, Preckwinkle was asked about entering the mayor’s race but didn’t say if she’s in. Calling it a county event, she said she wouldn’t discuss political matters. Then she left.

What happens if both Preckwinkle and her Cook County Board floor leader Jesus “Chuy” Garcia run and stake a claim to the same progressive base?

“It makes things a lot more interesting. That’s for sure,” Sawyer said. “There’s a lot of people running who are gonna make this race probably the most interesting race we’ve ever had.”

Sawyer openly acknowledged it would be preferable if Preckwinkle and Garcia could settle their recent differences and decide between them which one should enter the mayor’s race, so both are not running.

That could pave the way to at least attempt to reunite the elusive coalition between blacks and Hispanics that paved the way for Harold Washington’s election as Chicago’s first African-American mayor.

Another veteran political operative argued that if both Preckwinkle and Garcia run, they are likely to face off against each other in the run-off.

“Everybody else will slice and dice,” the operative said.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Caucus, said he talked this week to Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and Garcia assured Villegas that he, too, is planning to enter the race this week, no matter what Preckwinkle does.

It’s not a game of political chicken. The recent tension between the two former allies is real, Villegas said.

“When President Preckwinkle stayed on the sidelines and didn’t support her floor leader for mayor [in 2015], that’s something that should have been an easy win for Chuy to pick her up as an endorsement. It didn’t happen. He never forgot,” Villegas said.

“You have two strong personalities, two strong leaders who are gonna draw segments of the population they represent. It’s gonna be interesting to see how that plays out. I wouldn’t rule out also Comptroller Mendoza as someone else who might be taking a look at it as well.”

Not long after news of Preckwinkle’s likely-but-unconfirmed mayoral run broke, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez issued a statement from the congressman:

“Jesús ‘Chuy’ García for Mayor” petitions have been printed and are circulating the streets of Chicago. The response to the #draftchuy movement has been incredible: hundreds of volunteers have already collected thousands of signatures to get Chuy on the ballot. It’s clear that the people of Chicago are hungry for a progressive leader like Chuy, who will unify this city and make it better for everyone.”

Gutierrez is retiring from Congress; Garcia is the Democratic nominee to fill his seat. But last week, Gutierrez told reporters he would actively try to draft Garcia to run for mayor.

Preckwinkle and Garcia appear to have similar voting records and a similar appeal to progressive voters, but Villegas said looks can be deceiving. There are more recent differences.

“At one point, they probably did draw from the same pool. But if you take a look at President Preckwinkle, who’s now the chairman of the Democratic Party, that can be viewed as someone who’s maybe lost that progressive credibility,” Villegas said.

“Then you look at Chuy, who campaigned hard for Bernie Sanders here, you see both spectrums. You have the progressive Democrats versus your Machine Democrats.”

Villegas said he plans to wait until the runoff to choose a horse in the crowded race for mayor. In the meantime, he’s focused on his own aldermanic race.

Sources had previously told Sneed that Preckwinkle had begun making phone calls about a possible run the same week Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced he would not seek a third term.

“Toni is definitely checking out the lay of the land,” a top Democrat told Sneed then.

Preckwinkle had considered a mayoral run in 2014 but backed away from the direct challenge to Emanuel in the 2015 election. In March, she defeated former Ald. Bob Fioretti in the Democratic primary and will run unopposed for county board chair in the Nov. 6 general election.

She told the Sun-Times in March that her third term would be her last, though she didn’t say what plans she had for her future — retirement or otherwise.

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles

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