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Preckwinkle donates $12,800 in direct contributions from Burke to non-profits

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is challenging the petitions of five opponents | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Cook County Board President and mayoral contender Toni Preckwinkle said in an email statement Sunday she is returning all of the $116,000 she raised at Ald. Ed Burke’s house in January 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle is apparently having second thoughts about accepting campaign cash from embattled Chicago Ald. Edward Burke (14th) in the wake of unprecedented federal raids on Burke’s 14th Ward and City Hall offices.

Four days after telling the Chicago Sun-Times she had no intention of returning any of Burke’s money, Preckwinkle is purging herself of $12,800 in direct contributions from Chicago’s most powerful and longest-serving alderman.

After thinking long and hard about it over the weekend, Preckwinkle has decided to donate all of the money Burke has given her over the last 30 years to two non-profit organizations.

“I have been profoundly troubled by the news that the offices of 14th Ward Alderman Ed Burke had been raided twice by the FBI and his alleged interference in the Department of Aviation,” Preckwinkle was quoted as saying in a statement.

“Over the thirty years, Alderman Burke has contributed a total of $12,800 to my Cook County board president and aldermanic accounts despite having little contact and no relationship with the Alderman. I have decided to donate the money to Latinos Progresando and Mijente, two organizations that work to empower the Latinx community.”

Preckwinkle noted that, if elected mayor, she has vowed to dump Burke as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee and transfer control over the city’s $100 million-a-year worker’s compensation program from the Finance Committee to the Department of Human Resources.

“For decades, Alderman Burke has had to recuse himself from crucial votes due to his conflict of interests. Elected officials have a duty to represent their constituents. They should not take jobs that interfere with their duty to serve,” Preckwinkle said, referring to the property tax appeals work that Burke’s law firm has done for clout-heavy clients like Trump Tower.

“Throughout my career, I have always stood for responsible, ethical government and it is clear that there is a need for new leadership in the 14th Ward.”

Mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot, who is fighting off a petition challenge from Preckwinkle, said Preckwinkle “owes the public an explanation” for accepting any contributions from Burke.

“This is a guy who did everything he could to stop Harold Washington. Called him every horrible, homo-phobic, racist name that he could think of and spent two years fighting to stop him from being able to advance his agenda. Why would she want that guy’s support?” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot ridiculed Preckwinkle’s decision to give away the money she received directly from Burke, but keep the money she raised at the alderman’s house.

“She should dis-invest herself of anything Ed Burke gave her or caused her to get. It’s tainted money. She’s trying to have it both ways,” Lightfoot said.

Mayoral candidate Susana Mendoza would not have been elected to the Illinois House without Burke’s support. But Tuesday, she said she would donate the $10,326 she has received from Burke to the families of three Chicago Police officers killed in the line of duty over the last month.

Preckwinkle is the county board president who also serves as Cook County Democratic Party chairman.

Last week, she told the Chicago Sun-Times she would move to strip Burke of his role as the party’s head of judicial slate-making in the wake of what she called “profoundly troubling” allegations about Burke’s political interference at O’Hare Airport.

After reading former Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans’ bill of particulars against Burke and hearing about the second raid in two weeks on Burke’s City Hall office, Preckwinkle also demanded that Burke step down as chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee.

“I don’t see any reason why a member of the City Council should be so intimately involved in the operations of one of the departments. Especially since it seems to have been on behalf of someone who was a friend of his and a vendor of the city,” Preckwinkle said on that day.

But at that time, Preckwinkle also said she had no intention of returning the contributions she raised during a fundraiser Burke held in his home for her re-election campaign as county board president.

“I’m grateful for the contributions that I’ve received. It’s unclear whether or not he will be charged and found guilty. If he is, I’ll return the money,” she said then.

On Tuesday, Preckwinkle campaign spokesperson Monica Trevino said Preckwinkle changed her mind over the weekend and decided to give away the money she received directly from Burke because she was “profoundly troubled” by the second FBI raid on Burke’s City Hall office.

But Trevino defended Preckwinkle’s decision to hold onto the money she raised at his house without saying precisely how much money that was.

“Imagine if every candidate had to do that. … You’re talking about [contributions from] a lot of different people,” Trevino said.