The Cook County Democrats’ No. 2 chieftain—a “tweedy independent with sensible shoes,” as the Tribune’s John Kass once described her—more powerful than Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel? Right now, absolutely.
Long known as a workhorse and policy wonk who appeals to lakefront liberal types, Preckwinkle recently unleashed her Machiavellian side. While much of Rahm’s credibility and moral authority dribbled away over the past year, she used her sharp elbows to force her way into every facet of county government and beyond. She successfully pushed the mayor to install Kurt Summers (No. 44), her former chief of staff, as city treasurer, and now she has State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, once thought immovable from her perch, in her sights. The party’s shotgun endorsement of Kim Foxx, another one of Preckwinkle’s former top aides, for state’s attorney? Engineered by Preckwinkle, of course. If Foxx wins the primary on March 15, it will be impossible to deny that Preckwinkle is the biggest political force in town.
Don’t forget that polls projected she would have thrashed Rahm in the last mayor’s race if she had entered it. True, Preckwinkle has all but conceded that she might be too old to run for mayor in 2019, when she’ll turn 72. (You can bet that her legions of supporters will try to draft her anyway.) But anyone who does run for that office—or any other in Chicago—will be racing to kiss her ring.