'Party's over,' Preckwinkle vows COOK COUNTY | No-nonsense board chief-elect positioning herself as the anti-Stroger
Monday, November 08, 2010
by Lisa Donovan
No more fancy office furniture. No more hush-hush, no-bid government
contracts -- that are illegal. And in the next four years, say goodbye
to the county sales tax hike.
That's the message from Toni Preckwinkle as she prepares to take the
reins of the Cook County Board. The board's president-elect is
positioning herself as the anti-Todd Stroger, the lame-duck board
president whose administration has been criticized -- and criminally
investigated in one instance -- for many of the practices she plans to
put an end to.
"The employment of friends and family and cronies who are minimally
competent or just completely inappropriate hires is over,'' she said in a
wide-ranging interview after her election victory Tuesday.
Preckwinkle, 63, of Hyde Park, also vowed that while there is a time
and place for no-bid contracts, she will not stand for the ones that led
to the arrest and public corruption charges against Carla Oglesby,
Stroger’s ousted deputy chief of staff. She allegedly steered contracts
to public relations firms she ran as well as to her pals — all just
under the $25,000 threshold requiring approval of Cook County
"We're not going to do anything that
deliberately skirts the rules — we're going to be taking a look at
contracting," she said, adding: "There was deliberate effort, it seems
to me, to circumvent the rules laid down by the Cook County Board.
Presumably small no-bid contracts may be awarded, but . . . you would
not be going to have these $24,999 contracts that skirt the rules."
also said that taxpayer money won’t be spent on “luxurious’’ office
furniture, a reference to the Stroger administration signing off on the
purchase of $13,000 in office furniture for Stroger's childhood pal and
chief spokesman Eugene Mullins, whose last day on the job was Friday.
party's over," Preckwinkle said, echoing a comment she made election
night. "The idea that you can spend money, whether it's on no-bid
contracts or luxurious office suite furniture -- that was part of the
Preckwinkle is likely to enjoy a honeymoon period -- which one expert
said was 100 days -- and in that time, she'll have to juggle delivering
a $3 billion spending plan and close a projected $300 million budget
gap along with political expectations that come fresh off the campaign
trail: loyalists looking for jobs and the unions pushing back amid talks
Indeed, critics -- and quietly some commissioners -- have already
been chattering about whether the Preckwinkle administration will give
the unions special treatment for supporting her campaign.
The Service Employees International Union alone chipped in more than $500,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.
Preckwinkle said there are no sacred cows and that she has warned contributors that tough days lie ahead.
Preckwinkle says she believes across-the-board cuts of at least 10
percent are necessary, which would likely mean slashing some of the
22,000 employees who largely work in the county-funded local court
system and jail, as well as health and hospital systems.
Preckwinkle said she likely will slash her $170,000-a-year paycheck by 10 percent.
An audit of the offices under the president, with about 2,000 employees, should help root out some of the do-nothing employees.
"We've discovered there are positions for which there are not job
descriptions, so it's kind of hard to hold people accountable if they
can argue they don't know what they're supposed to be doing,''
Preckwinkle said, noting that job descriptions and performance reviews
will now become the norm.
The county's Highway Department -- which handles road maintenance for
unincorporated Cook County -- is also expected to be in the cross hairs
after repeated patronage scandals including Stroger's personal hire of a
steakhouse busboy who ascended to a $61,000-a-year middle management
job until he was arrested on domestic violence-related charges and
"We've treated the Highway Department as a cash cow for too long. At
one point, 90 percent of the money went for infrastructure and 10
percent went to the administration or to support the county generally.
Now it's 60-40,'' she said.
The transition from 19-year veteran Chicago alderman -- under the
iron grip of Mayor Daley -- to chief executive will require her to be a
consensus-maker among the 17 county commissioners, including the four
Republicans. Under Stroger, commissioners complained it was tough to get
face time with Stroger.
So Preckwinkle will need at least nine commissioners to support her
if she's going to slash what's left of Stroger's unpopular
penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike in a few years.
Building consensus could be a challenge, as Preckwinkle's bookish
nature and no-nonsense, even abrupt communication style at times have
been described as off-putting. But she revealed a softer side on the
campaign trail, at one point airing a sales tax repeal ad that showed
Preckwinkle shaking hands with a penny-pinching Benjamin Franklin.
And Preckwinkle and her chief of staff, Kurt Summers Jr., who worked
on Daley's 2016 Olympic bid, have begun to reach out to commissioners
beyond John Daley, the mayor's brother, and longtime Preckwinkle friend
Larry Suffredin, both Democrats on the board.
Reaching out is crucial, "especially at budget time, before
commissioners create a new alliance and block her wishes,'' said Dick
Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at
Chicago and a onetime independent alderman.
Some fence-mending might also be necessary: Preckwinkle supported the
opponents of Democratic Commissioners Deborah Sims and William Beavers
in the February primary.
"I don't need nothing from her, so I don't see any kind of
conflict,'' said Beavers, a former Chicago alderman who served with
Preckwinkle also supported the Democrat who ran and lost against
Republican Liz Gorman. Gorman and Preckwinkle agreed last week they can
put the election behind them.