Cook County Board President and mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle on Thursday again attacked the progressive credentials of her opponent, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot.
“She is a corporate lawyer who has defended Wall Street banks,” said Preckwinkle in an interview with Chicago Tonight’s Paris Schutz. “That’s not somebody I would describe as a progressive.”
Preckwinkle sought to burnish her own progressive credentials by among other things highlighting her support for a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2021.
“I’m the most progressive candidate in this race,” said Preckwinkle. “I beat the machine to become alderman of the 4th Ward. When I came into the City Council, I was a founder of the progressive caucus.”
She also noted her pioneering career as a woman breaking through in a political landscape dominated by men.
“When I got elected alderman of the 4th Ward, I was the first woman elected to that office. When I got elected president of the county in 2010, I was the first woman elected to that office. So I’ve been breaking glass ceilings for a while,” said Preckwinkle.
When Preckwinkle decided to enter the race after incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not run for a third term, most political observers made her the presumptive favorite. Bill Daley – the candidate most liked and backed by the business community – was expected to be her runoff opponent.
But a surging Lori Lightfoot campaign upended those expectations, and now she finds herself in a battle with another African-American woman with an impressive resume.
Preckwinkle wasted little time in taking a shot at Lightfoot and a perceived lack of executive experience on Tuesday night.
“It’s not enough to stand at podium and talk about what you want to see happen,” said Preckwinkle. “You have to come to this job with the capacity and capability to make your vision a reality.”
But Preckwinkle’s progressive credentials have undoubtedly been tarnished by the scandal swirling around 14th Ward Ald. Ed Burke.
Until recently the most powerful alderman in the city, Burke has been charged by federal prosecutors with attempting to extort a Burger King owner into making a $10,000 donation to Preckwinkle’s campaign. Preckwinkle also held a fundraiser at Burke’s house and helped Burke’s son, Ed Burke Jr., get a six-figure job at the county while he faced sexual harassment allegations.
Several scandals involving her staff have also done her no favors. Most recently she had to fire a senior campaign aide after he likened Lightfoot to Nazis in a social media post.
But Preckwinkle’s nearly three decades in government – as 4th Ward Alderman from 1991-2010 and as Cook County Board President for the past nine years – could make that a hard sell to voters who appear to want change.
Lightfoot is clearly trying to position herself as the true agent of change while depicting Preckwinkle as a defender of the status quo.
“I do not represent the past. I am not tied to the broken political machine, and I did not aspire to climb the ranks of the Cook County Democratic Party to be the party boss,” Lightfoot told reporters. “I’m not affiliated with Ed Burke, (former Cook County Assessor) Joe Berrios or anyone else who represents the old, corrupt Chicago way.”
But as both women try to draw distinctions to show how different they are, on policy matters at least, they are both relying on the same playbook.
They both oppose any amendment to the Illinois constitution to ease the city’s pension crisis. They both support a Chicago casino, recreational marijuana, police reform and a freeze on new charter schools. Both Preckwinkle and Lightfoot also support a graduated income tax as well as a real estate transfer tax. In short, on policy after progressive policy they are in agreement.
The former 4th Ward alderman must hope that her greater political experience, larger campaign war chest, and the backing of powerful unions who know how to get the vote out will ultimately help her prevail in the April 2 runoff.
But to do that Preckwinkle needs to diminish enthusiasm for a Lightfoot campaign that finished ahead of hers on Tuesday and which seems to be building momentum.
Cook County Board President Preckwinkle joins Paris Schutz to discuss her mayoral campaign.