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Preckwinkle stands behind Bobby Rush — even after racially inflammatory remarks

Toni Preckwinkle (at lectern)

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was joined by several members of Congress, including Bobby Rush (right) at a news conference in September. | Sun-Times file photo

In 1987, legendary Chicago judge R. Eugene Pincham was roundly condemned for warning that “anybody south of Madison Street” who didn’t support re-electing Mayor Harold Washington “should be hung.”

Now, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush is fanning the flames of racial division in a city notorious for it to promote Toni Preckwinkle and describe Lori Lightfoot as a protector of police officers who use excessive force.

Only this time, Preckwinkle is standing firmly behind Rush and refusing to condemn the racially-incendiary language.

“Congressman Rush is a community activist — a civil rights activist — who is expressing his concerns about issues relating to police and community. Those are legitimate concerns in African-American and Latinx communities. … Those concerns are ones I share,” she said.

“My opponent has not been willing to address those concerns.”

Preckwinkle was asked if she agrees with Rush that “the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police” would be on the hands of Lightfoot voters if the former police board president is elected mayor.

“Look, Congressman Rush stated his own views and I’ve stated mine,” she said, without answering the question.

Preckwinkle was then asked to describe her specific concerns about Lightfoot’s record on police accountability that might lead to people dying at the hands of police.

“Her services, both as appointees of Mayor Daley and an appointee of Mayor Emanuel, served, I think, not to lay bare the real challenges that we face there,” she said.

Rush touched off the political firestorm during a raucous campaign rally for Preckwinkle Saturday at the Harold Washington Cultural Center.

He not only accused Lightfoot of being a champion of Chicago Police officers. He warned that more innocent black people would be killed at the hands of the police if she is elected mayor.

“This election is really about what type of police force we’re going to have in the city of Chicago, and everyone who votes for Lori, the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police is on your hands,” Rush said from the stage.

“If you’re against police brutality and murder, you ought to be for Toni Preckwinkle. She’s the only one who is going to have the police under her control.”

Lightfoot has portrayed herself as a change agent in a change election dominated by the City Hall corruption scandal that threatens to bring down the City Council’s two most powerful aldermen: former Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and former Zoning Committee Chairman Danny Solis (25th).

But, Rush dismissed Lightfoot as “chump change” because she was endorsed by Matt O’Shea, the 19th Ward’s alderman and Democratic committeeman. The vote-rich Southwest Side ward is home to scores of Chicago Police officers.

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On Monday, Rush refused to back down, even as he argued the remarks were taken out of context.

After reiterating his endorsement of Preckwinkle at an event in Pilsen, Rush argued Lightfoot would “nullify” and “hollow out” the consent decree, if she’s elected mayor.

“I felt — and I still feel — as though Lori Lightfoot has made an alliance with the devil,” Rush said, pointing to the O’Shea endorsement.

Preckwinkle was around in 1983 when Republican mayoral candidate Bernard Epton used the racially inflammatory slogan: “Epton: Before it’s too late” in a failed attempt to stop Harold Washington from becoming Chicago’s first African-American mayor.

Epton’s slogan was tame compared to Pincham’s warning four years later.

Isn’t Rush doing much the same thing?

“No. Of course not,” Preckwinkle said Monday.

But Lightfoot sees in Rush’s remarks “shades of” the same racial politics that has given Chicago politics a bad name.

“What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to ignite divisions. … It says something about her [Preckwinkle] that she not only stood by while this kind of hateful rhetoric was being [used], but doubled down,” Lightfoot said.

“I’m not going to get into the mud with someone whose campaign is failing and they’re desperate for relevance. They’re not up on TV. They’re gonna continue doing things that are increasingly more outrageous.”

Lightfoot said she’s heard from a lot of people “repulsed” by what they heard from Rush.

“We should be talking about … our vision of how we’re gonna transform the city and about hope. Racial politics and dividing us — pitting one group against another — that’s an old playbook. But I don’t think that has any place in the current Chicago,” she said.

O’Shea was equally outraged.

“I couldn’t believe what I read. Very disappointed. We don’t need that divisive rhetoric right now in the city,” he said.

“I’m looking toward unity and people working together to solve these problems we have. And that’s why I’m supporting Lori Lightfoot.”

Former mayoral candidate Amara Enyia also expressed disappointment in Preckwinkle; Enyia is making no runoff endorsement — to preserve, she said, her place as an independent voice able to hold the new mayor accountable.

“Choosing to condemn or speak out against language that divides us — we all have a choice whether to do that,” Enyia said Monday.

“Make the choice to take the high road. Make the choice to operate with grace. Make the choice to promote your candidate — not promote the politics of fear.”

Contributing: Stefano Esposito