CHICAGO (CBS) – Veteran South Side alderman Toni Preckwinkle has won the contest for Cook County Board president, nine months after walloping incumbent Todd Stroger in the primary.
Preckwinkle, a Democrat, beat out Republican former State Sen. Roger Keats and Green Party candidate Tom Tresser for the top county office.
She will now be responsible for the $3 million county budget, which funds the county jail, court system and public hospitals, among other offices and institutions. She will also be responsible for the Cook County Forest Preserve.
In campaigning for the seat, Preckwinkle said she would roll back the unpopular sales tax hike Stroger passed two years ago – half of which was already overridden by county commissioners.
Preckwinkle has also called for cutting waste in the county government, although she disagreed with opponents Keats and Tresser’s idea of a 10 percent across-the-board cut. The Chicago Reader reported that Preckwinkle plans to be “strategic” so as to ensure valuable health care or security needs are not being cut.
Preckwinkle has also focused on creating jobs, rebuilding the health care system to make it more efficient and effective, fighting violent crime, and strengthening the Forest Preserve District by replacing patronage with “professional management.” She has also called for an independent anti-corruption committee to review all county contracts.
Preckwinkle was first elected alderman of the 4th Ward in 1991, representing parts of the Hyde Park, Kenwood, Oakland and Bronzeville neighborhoods. After coming up short in 1983 and 1987, she defeated Ald. Timothy Evans (4th), a onetime mayoral candidate who now serves as chief judge of the Cook County Circuit Court.
A native of St. Paul, Minn., Preckwinkle moved to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Before becoming alderman, she spent a decade as a history teacher, and also served as executive director for the Chicago Jobs Council, a city coordinator of economic development, and a development officer for the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club.
Her victory in the Democratic primary in February follows a long period of decline in the popularity of single-term board president Stroger.
Todd Stroger’s father, three-term incumbent John Stroger, defeated county Commissioner Forrest Claypool in the 2006 primary for board president, despite being incapacitated by a stroke. When it became clear that the elder Stroger would not recover enough to return, slatemakers placed Todd Stroger on the ballot, and he went on to defeat Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica in the general election.
But Todd Stroger was bogged down by the unpopular tax hike, which brought the sales tax in Chicago to the highest level in America.
He was also dragged down by scandals involving his staff. In 2009, he fired his cousin and chief financial officer Donna Dunnings, after finding out she had twice bailed another county staffer, Tony Cole, out of jail. Cole was hired despite a felony conviction for writing bad checks, and fired when Stroger found out about the conviction.
And last month, well after Stroger had already lost the Democratic primary, Stroger deputy chief of staff Carla Oglesby was charged with felony public corruption for allegedly handing no-work contracts to businesses that included her own PR company.
In February, Stroger came in dead last in a four-way race with Preckwinkle, county Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown, and Metropolitan Water Reclamation District President Terrence O’Brien. Preckwinkle won handily with 49 percent of the vote, compared with a mere 14 percent for Stroger.
CBS 2 Web Producer Adam Harrington contributed to this report.