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Preckwinkle to announce re-election campaign
County Board President to seek 2nd term in 2014

Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will launch her re-election bid Tuesday, saying she wants another four years to try to reform the way the county locks up adult and juvenile criminal defendants and to get more people out to the forest preserves.

In announcing her campaign for a second term, Preckwinkle also shut the door on running for another office: mayor of Chicago. Though she has clashed with Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his policing and education policies, Preckwinkle said Monday she would serve a full term if re-elected next year and not run for mayor in 2015. 

Preckwinkle is credited with ushering in a period of relative peace in county government in the two-plus years since she ended the tumultuous administration of predecessor Todd Stroger. Preckwinkle's latest budget, which rolled back the last of Stroger's unpopular 2008 sales tax increase, passed the County Board with just one dissenting vote.

No strong challengers to Preckwinkle have emerged, despite her occasional lightning rod moments like telling a downstate audience that Ronald Reagan deserves "a special place in hell" for his role in the war on drugs.

Anybody interested in taking on the Democrat from Hyde Park will face a well-financed opponent. Preckwinkle had nearly $549,000 in her campaign fund at the end of March, campaign finance records show. Scott Kastrup, her campaign finance director, said another $500,000 is expected to come in Tuesday at the annual Chicago Cultural Center fundraiser where Preckwinkle will formally announce her candidacy.

Republican County Commissioner Timothy Schneider of Streamwood said Preckwinkle benefits in part simply from following Stroger, whose administration was marked by charges of financial mismanagement and cronyism.

"We're more accountable. She has put in place performance metrics in each department," Schneider said. "The county's head count is down, and the budget is down. We're doing more with less. Now, I would like to see that taken further, but at least we're taking steps."

Preckwinkle, 66, said she has tried to professionalize county government, which long has had a reputation as a dumping ground for political appointees and people who couldn't hack it elsewhere.

"We've brought in a lot of good people, some of them from the city, some of them from the state, some of them from the private sector, to help us lead departments and agencies," she told the Tribune. "And I think as a result of that, we've allocated our staff resources much better than was the situation when we walked in the door."

Democratic Commissioner John Fritchey of Chicago argues that some of the tougher decisions lie ahead. "We need to recognize a lot of the low-hanging fruit has been picked in starting to transform Cook County government," he said. "As she continues to look at ways to do that, the upcoming decisions are going to require the cooperation of other officials."

Preckwinkle acknowledged that when she took office, she wasn't prepared for the independent power held by the heads of the various county departments.

She recently suffered a setback in her signature push to change the juvenile justice system, when federally appointed monitor Earl Dunlap decided a wing of the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center that Preckwinkle had closed would need to be reopened because of higher numbers of young people being held at the facility.

Preckwinkle blamed the increase in the juvenile center's population in part on more youths getting arrested by the Chicago Police Department. "Actually, the folks in the juvenile court side have worked with us to reduce the population, and we were doing pretty well until basically the city of Chicago changed its policing strategy and started sweeping up kids, sweeping up kids and adults," she said.

In the end, however, the public is likely to place the success or failure of these initiatives mainly at the feet of Preckwinkle as the county's top executive.

That's particularly true of the budget, where it gets harder each year to try to blame Stroger for lingering financial troubles.

Preckwinkle has avoided a property tax increase and said that will remain off-limits in her next budget plan.

She also pledged no hike in the sales tax. But she did not take off the table the possibility of raising more of the ancillary taxes and fees she has leaned on to balance the books.

For example, Preckwinkle's latest budget included a $1-per-pack cigarette tax increase, a $25 tax on new gun sales, a 1.25 percent use tax on out-of-county purchases of more than $3,500, a $1,000-a-year tax on slot machines and a $200-a-year tax on video gambling terminals. All told, those were expected to raise about $41.7 million this year in a $2.95 billion budget.

But Laurence Msall, president of the nonpartisan Civic Federation budget watchdog group, said the taxes aimed at a particular group beat the ones that hit most county residents.

"User fees and targeted fees like cigarette taxes are generally preferable to the ones levied on the general population," Msall said. "They've generally targeted them to the part of the population that uses the service."



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