Toni Preckwinkle


Toni Preckwinkle

Age: 66

Occupation: President, Cook County Board of Commissioners

Like Teflon, Preckwinkle continues to be a steely force in local government. She’s up four spots on this list, despite a tax snafu in January that she deftly sidestepped. She spoke to Chicago on January 21.

More than a few people have called for you to run against Mayor Emanuel in 2015. Would you like to be mayor?

When I ran for this job, I was intrigued by the possibility of trying to transform our health care system and the criminal justice system to make them fairer. We’ve made some progress in the last two and a half years in the health care system, and we’re trying to work on the court system. I feel like I have a lot of work to do. I’m running for reelection for the job I have.

Still, you’ve had your share of frustrations with the mayor. Late last year, you decried the city’s “miser-able education system,” for example, and you have been critical about the handling of crime. Do you still feel that way?

I’m a teacher by profession, and I’m very concerned about the quality of education avail- able to our children. Policing strategies in Chicago are not in my control. [With the mayor] there are going to be differences in policies and views of the world.

You began 2014 with revelations that your campaign missed a tax payment. What do you say to people who point to this as more of the same in county government?

This was transition work between my aldermanic office and the president's office. Reports didn’t get filed, and I take responsibility for that. We paid the taxes [totaling $12,000] in October, and I paid the [$1,367] penalty myself.

Last July, you replaced the county’s ethics chief, who wanted to fine Joseph Berrios, the Cook County assessor, $10,000 for hiring his relatives. Is your new ethics chief pursuing it?

There’s a court proceeding pending. Joe is a political ally. I have always said that I don’t believe in hiring your relatives. And I’ve never hired anybody in my family. This is something Joe and I have agreed to disagree about.

Your birthday is on March 17, a rather important political day in Chicago. How do you celebrate?

I have a joke about that. This is a town in which the Democratic Party has been disproportionately Irish and Catholic, and I’m neither. So my joke is that if you’re going to be involved in Chicago politics and you’re not Irish or Catholic, it helps if you’re at least born on Saint Patrick’s Day.

Interview by James Ylisela Jr.
Photo: Anna Knott