Despite being undeniably popular with voters, Toni Preckwinkle has faltered in virtually every significant attempt to expand her influence.
The Cook County Board president’s coattails proved short in recent elections. Preckwinkle’s endorsed candidates lost in bids for city, county, state and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District offices.
She can end her losing streak dramatically in the Democratic primary in March, when her former chief of staff Kimberly Foxx plans to challenge Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Foxx doesn’t appear to be off to a quick start, raising less than $15,000 in the first three months after forming a campaign committee.
Foxx says she’s much more than a tool of Preckwinkle. In that case, maybe one of the few checks cashed so far by her campaign for the county’s top law-enforcement job shouldn’t have been from Julie Kelly — the wife of the top lobbyist at the Preckwinkle administration.
County records show John Kelly Jr. lobbied Foxx six times in the first half of this year for clients including Noresco LLC of Westborough, Massachusetts, and Northbrook-based RSD Mission Hills LLC.
After three phone calls between Kelly and Foxx about Noresco in June, the company landed two contracts worth a total of $10 million in July, according to the county’s website.
Another two phone conferences between Kelly and Foxx in early February took place days before RSD Mission Hills won a zoning change for a controversial housing development plan in Northbrook.
And a few weeks before Foxx left the county last month, Kelly’s All-Circo Inc. landed a $7,500-a-month contract to lobby for Preckwinkle’s office in Springfield.
As a lobbyist, Kelly would have been limited to giving Foxx no more than $750 to run for state’s attorney.
His wife faces no such limit. Julie Kelly says her husband’s deep business ties to Cook County government had nothing to do with her decision to contribute $2,000 to Foxx’s campaign on Sept. 4. It’s the only money any Illinois campaign has reported ever receiving from her.
“There needs to be criminal-justice reform in this county, and I think she would do a great job,” Julie Kelly said Tuesday of Foxx. “I think she would be a very impressive candidate.”
The Foxx campaign initially reported getting two contributions from Julie Kelly. But after I asked them about that, they quickly sent a letter to state elections officials Tuesday saying they had made a clerical mistake and that there was only one: a $2,000 contribution from Kelly.
The letter to the state came from the fax number of the Cook County Democratic Party. Preckwinkle is an executive vice chairman of the county party, but the party recently declined to endorse anybody for state’s attorney.
If Foxx is to succeed, she must do it without a key component of Preckwinkle’s first campaign for County Board president. Ken Snyder, the consultant who produced the clever commercials that propelled Preckwinkle to victory in 2010, said Preckwinkle asked him to work for Foxx but he declined and will work for Alvarez.
Foxx spokeswoman Joanna Klonsky said the campaign instead has hired two East Coast-based firms — Three Point Media and Mission Control — and will be managed by Rebecca Reynolds, who ran state Rep. Will Guzzardi’s first, unsuccessful campaign for state representative.
Another Alvarez challenger, former assistant state’s attorney and federal prosecutor Donna More, also has been busy putting together a campaign team.
Sources said More has hired Mike Ruemmler, who managed Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s re-election campaign earlier this year; another high-ranking former Emanuel aide, Anna Valencia; and AKPD Media and Message, the firm founded by David Axelrod.
More has reported receiving contributions totaling more than $200,000. Much of it came from her mother and her husband, veteran public-relations executive Hud Engelhart.
Meanwhile, the bad news for Alvarez continued this week, as she fired a prosecutor for allegedly lying in a case involving a Chicago police officer who was shot.
To capitalize on Alvarez’s problems — and beat More, too — Foxx likely will need more effective help from her former boss than other Preckwinkle allies have enjoyed.