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Preckwinkle vows to keep Jackson, cracks the door open to retaining Johnson

Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson is entitled to six months of pay on her $260,000-a-year salary if she’s terminated without cause, plus six months of health insurance for herself and her family.

She won’t need it if Toni Preckwinkle is elected mayor.

Preckwinkle said Friday she plans to keep Jackson for two reasons: CPS needs stability after a revolving door of five CEOs in the past eight years and Mayor Rahm Emanuel got it right with his fifth try.

“We’re gonna have some transition in the police department. It’s important to have stability at CPS,” Preckwinkle told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I’m impressed by the fact that she’s a Chicago native. That she worked her way up from a teacher to regional administrator and then head of the schools and that her kids are in the public schools.”

If Jackson agrees to stay, Preckwinkle made it clear she’ll be on Jackson’s case to deliver on the broken promise to re-purpose the 38 schools closed by Emanuel that remain vacant.

“We have to heat them. We have to take care of them. We can’t let them disintegrate. And they’re very public reminders to the people who live in those neighborhoods that resources were withdrawn from their community,” Preckwinkle said.

“It’s a slap in the face that we haven’t made the effort to try to turn those empty buildings into community resources. We have to make that a priority over the next four years.”

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Preckwinkle’s reference to “transition in the police department” stems from her mid-December promise to dump Supt. Eddie Johnson for “refusing to acknowledge there was a code of silence” in the Chicago Police Department.

Emanuel famously acknowledged that there is a code of silence in the department in the furor over his handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

But that didn’t stop Johnson from testifying under oath during a lawsuit deposition that he was unaware of any such code to protect officers accused of misconduct.

On Friday, Preckwinkle cracked the door open for Johnson to save his $260,004-a-year job just as the department released crime figures for February that showed homicides and shootings continuing to decline.

“I’m not targeting him. What I’ve said is that you have to acknowledge that we have a code of silence in the police department, and the superintendent of police has to acknowledge that that’s the case,” Preckwinkle said.

“I’m a history teacher. If you don’t acknowledge your problems, there’s no way you can seriously address them. That’s one. . . . We have to provide better training and supervision for our officers. And the third thing is we have to hold our police department accountable for solving the most serious crimes. . . . We have a 15 percent closure rate for murders. The national average is, what, 62 percent?”

What if Johnson were to acknowledge the code of silence? Is Preckwinkle open to keeping him on the job?

“I’m always willing to talk to people,” she said.

Also on Friday, Preckwinkle said former President Barack Obama’s steadfast opposition to signing a community benefits agreement to prevent displacement of and guarantee participation by residents of the South Side neighborhoods surrounding the proposed $500 million Obama Presidential Center does not prevent the city from cutting such a deal.

“The city could work with community residents around mitigating the impacts that people are fearful of. We can have a community benefits agreement that involves the city and the community. . . . It doesn’t have to involve the presidential center,” Preckwinkle said.

“When I was alderman of the 4th Ward, we worked on the Olympic deal because the Olympic Village was gonna be at Michael Reese. So, we worked through a community benefits agreement with residents and we got it passed in the City Council. It doesn’t have to involve the library. It can involve the city and community residents.”

Johnson reacted angrily to Preckwinkle’s initial promise to fire him, saying he “came on this job with my integrity and my honor and that’s the way I’m going to leave this job.”

Without mentioning Preckwinkle by name, Johnson accused the county board president of misconstruing or misinterpreting what he had to say about the code of silence in a deposition.

“I never denied that. That’s a fact. The fact is, when you go into a court to testify, you’re testifying truthfully to what you know. I can’t cite specific examples of things like that,” he said.

“From day one, I have acknowledged that there’s racism on the police department. From day one, I have acknowledged that there’s misconduct. From day one, I have also said that’s a small minority of police officers. The majority of these men and women are doing the right thing for the right reasons.”

Johnson said then he has led a reform effort that’s unprecedented. “But the reality is, when you change a culture, you can’t do that in one or two years. . . . It takes time to do that.”