Toni Preckwinkle’s side role as Cook County Democratic Party chair may have been her undoing in last year’s mayoral election, but that isn’t keeping her from cracking the whip as she seeks another term in the party post.
The Cook County Board president is expected to be re-elected as Democratic chair Wednesday during an online convention at which she intends to dump two officials from her leadership team because they didn’t back State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and other party-slated candidates in the March 17 primary.
Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), who supported Bill Conway over Foxx in the state’s attorney race and state Sen. Iris Martinez over party-backed Michael Cabonargi for Circuit Court clerk, said Preckwinkle is removing him from his spot on the party’s nine-member executive committee.
Also being replaced on the executive committee is state Sen. Laura Murphy of Des Plaines, who also supported Conway over Foxx in her role as Maine Township Democratic committeeperson.
“We serve at the pleasure of the president, and apparently, my independence doesn’t pleasure the president,” said Murphy, noting that her township organization has a long history of making its own endorsements.
Preckwinkle said she decided to replace the two because she believes party leaders should support the party’s endorsed candidates, “especially in the high-profile races.”
“That should be the first criteria for leadership,” she said.
Preckwinkle emphasized that under her stewardship the party conducted a “very inclusive slating process” last year that produced the party’s “most diverse slate ever.”
Nobody questions Preckwinkle’s right to pick her own team. Still, it’s a fairly heavy-handed move for someone who alternately rejected and embraced being portrayed as a political boss during her unsuccessful campaign for mayor against Lori Lightfoot.
Reboyras and Murphy have served nearly two decades each as Democratic committeepersons, what we used to call committeemen before the name was legally changed.
Reboyras holds the title of party treasurer. Murphy is the party secretary. Both titles are largely honorific, but the individual holding them gets whatever power comes from having a seat at the table for internal Democratic Party decision-making.
It was after the most recent meeting of the nine-member executive committee that Reboyras said Preckwinkle questioned him about his support for Conway and then asked for his resignation.
“It caught me off guard,” Reboyras said.
Reboyras said he did not resign, but all party leadership posts are up for election every two years, and Preckwinkle left his and Murphy’s names off a list of those nominated to serve the next two years.
Chosen to take his place on the executive committee is Cicero Township committeeperson Blanca Vargas, who is slated to be the party’s new sergeant-at-arms.
The current sergeant-at-arms, County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, the Proviso Township committeeperson, is Preckwinkle’s pick to move up and take Reboyras’ spot as treasurer.
Murphy’s spot on the executive committee and as party secretary are both slated to go to Tracy Katz Muhl, Northfield Township committeeperson.
Although he bucked several of the party’s slated picks, Reboyras said it was his support of Conway that crossed a line with Preckwinkle.
“That was the big deal,” he said.
Preckwinkle made no secret of the fact that re-electing Foxx was her top political priority in 2020.
On Tuesday, Preckwinkle said re-electing Foxx was important to most party officials, adding: “It was particularly important to me.”
The county’s 80 ward and township Democratic committeepersons have a long history of picking and choosing at will from among the party’s endorsed candidates, but that doesn’t mean it’s not frowned upon.
Preckwinkle said she does not know if there is precedent for disciplining executive committee members for failing to support the party’s choice in a primary.
Reboyras said he has the “utmost respect” for Preckwinkle, but added: “I’m not a yes person.”
He said there’s nothing in the party’s bylaws that says he can’t support a candidate who wasn’t endorsed.
Martinez, who won the party’s circuit clerk nomination over Cabonargi and also was elected 33rd Ward committeeperson, sent a letter this week to the party’s executive director, Jacob Kaplan, questioning a rule that closed nominations to the leadership posts on April 5.
Martinez argued that was unfair to her and 16 other newly-elected committeepersons who had yet to take office and were precluded from participating.
“We never knew there was an open nomination process and a deadline,” Martinez said.
Although she’s a longstanding Reboyras ally, Martinez said: “This is not about anyone in particular. This is about an open and transparent process.”
Preckwinkle said she believes everyone received proper notice, but if someone seeks to reopen nominations, “we’ll see what the pleasure of the body is.”
The body may want to check with her first.