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Preckwinkle bats away Burke, boss barbs: Proud she made party ‘progressive’

Nine of the candidates running for mayor took questions from Crain's political reporter Greg Hinz and WGN Radio's Anna Davlantes at a mayoral forum Wednesday. | Rachel Hinton/ Sun-Times

Mayoral candidates don’t have running mates, but that didn’t stop a number of them from trying to force Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle to run a three-legged race with beleaguered Ald. Ed Burke.

Preckwinkle’s mayoral rivals again put her on the hot seat Wednesday night for taking money from the 14th Ward alderman.

Speaking at a Crain’s Chicago Business debate in the South Loop, Preckwinkle said taking money from the now-criminally charged alderman shouldn’t disqualify her from being mayor.

“I returned all of his money, and I’ve taken the strongest stance against him,” Preckwinkle said, pointing out that she called for Burke to resign as chair of the powerful Finance Committee, and stripped him of his role of slating judicial candidates for the Cook County Democratic Party. “I just said that if he’s guilty of the crimes of which he’s accused he ought to be in jail.”

That wasn’t enough for former Chicago Police Board head Lori Lightfoot.

“With due respect … you took those actions only after the red-hot glare of publicity was shone on you,” Lightfoot said.

Preckwinkle returned the $116,000 Burke gave her after Burke was charged with attempted extortion for allegedly using his position as alderman to try to steer business toward his private law firm.

And Burke wasn’t the only avenue of attack rivals used against Preckwinkle.

When businessman Willie Wilson brought up the topic of machine candidates, state comptroller Susana Mendoza dinged Preckwinkle for saying she was the most progressive candidate in the race — and for being the “boss” of the Cook County Democratic Party.

“You can’t really call yourself a progressive and challenge two of the leading women of color on this panel, “ Mendoza said, calling the petition challenges Preckwinkle lodged against Mendoza and Lightfoot the “politics of the past.”

“We don’t need more of that. At this point you are literally the boss of the party bosses … you may have started out as a reformer, President Preckwinkle, but you’ve gone completely regressive.”

Preckwinkle batted off the attacks on her record and her “boss” status Wednesday, saying she was proud of her role in the party.

“Frankly, I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the party because I’ve taken my progressive credentials into the party,” Preckwinkle said.

The panel discussion — which also included former CPS president Gery Chico, former Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, activist Amara Enyia and former CPS CEO Paul Vallas — was moderated by Crain’s political reporter Greg Hinz and WGN Radio host Anna Davlantes. It was broadcast on WGN-AM.

Besides the few heated moments, the candidates mostly stayed to their talking points and selling their platforms to the packed auditorium at Venue Six10, 610 S. Michigan.

Chico reiterated his plan for binding referenda at the City Council, while Enyia called for expanding restorative justice programs in schools. McCarthy called for expanding the powers of the city’s inspector general, and said he’d staff the office with police officers to “do those investigations so they can just go lock people up when they have to.”