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Preckwinkle defends hiring two former lawmakers

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Erica Slife

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle ran for the job as a reformer, but on Tuesday she found herself defending a decision to put two former southwest suburban state lawmakers on the county payroll.

Michael Carberry and John O’Sullivan served short stints last year as appointees to the Illinois House, but were out of office in January because they didn’t seek election last fall.

Now Carberry has landed as a nearly $100,000-a-year deputy director job in the county’s facilities management department. And O’Sullivan, the Worth Township Democratic committeeman, is making $85,000 a year as a regional superintendent at the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

Former County Board President Todd Stroger was criticized during his term for hiring the politically-connected. On election night last November, a victorious Preckwinkle told supporters she planned to “clean up county government by ending patronage.”

On Tuesday, Preckwinkle described her two new hires’ service in Springfield is a “credit” to their qualifications for county jobs.

“I’m grateful to people who are willing to serve in government. It’s often thankless and time consuming and involves personal sacrifice,” Preckwinkle said at an unrelated news conference.

Preckwinkle also pointed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision to hire former county Commissioner Forrest Claypool as the new Chicago Transit Authority president as another example of other former elected officials serving in government.

“Is his past service as a commissioner in Cook County reason to be critical of his appointment as head of CTA? I don’t believe so,” she said.

Indeed, Preckwinkle has hired myriad veterans of City Hall and state government veterans since she took office in December, including former state Rep. Robin Kelly, who now serves as the county’s chief administrative officer.

She also hired Michael Masters, chief of staff to former Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, to lead the county’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, and Andrea Gibson — who worked at City Hall for 16 years — as the county’s budget director.

O’Sullivan has worked for the county under past administrations, including more than 20 years in operations and maintenance at the county hospital system. Although O’Sullivan had been fired for allegedly falsifying his time cards, according to an inspector general’s report,

Preckwinkle said that the fact that he’d been re-hired with back pay alleviated any concerns she might have about him.

“He challenged the decision and he was restored to his position with back pay so I think that’s an indication to the status of the case,” she said.

O’Sullivan replaces Jose Virella, a regional superintendent who was hired when John Stroger was County Board president. Virella donated less than $500 to Stroger-controlled campaign funds over the years.

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