Toni Preckwinkle: Candidate Profile

Cook County Board President (Democrat)

  • Toni Preckwinkle, running for Cook County Board President

    Toni Preckwinkle, running for Cook County Board President

Updated 2/13/2018 12:20 PM

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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.

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City: Chicago


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Office sought:

Cook County Board President

Age: 70

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Family: One son, one daughter and three grandchildren

Occupation: President, Cook County Board President

Education: Bachelors and Masters degree from University of Chicago.

Civic involvement: I've held elected office since 1991, representing the 4th ward, currently serving as Board President since 2010, serve as a member on the board of the Boy Scouts for this region. I am also a member of the City Club of Chicago. Before running for office, I was taught history at local high schools.

Elected offices held: Alderman and Committeeman of the 4th ward and Executive Vice Chair of the Cook County Democratic Party

Questions & Answers

Why are you running for this office, whether for re-election or election for the first time? Is there a particular issue that motivates you? If so, what?

Since taking office, we've taken the tough but necessary steps to ensure accountability from our operations and our employees, to support our core services and to advance our policy priorities. We have expanded on our mission to deliver public health care and done so more effectively and responsibly. We have demanded a more just public safety system - and we remain committed to fighting the systemic inequalities that still disproportionately impact communities of color. We have decreased the pre-trial jail population by more than 30% and awarded more than $15 million in grants dedicated to community interventions. We remain committed to serving as a leader in our region's economy - without losing sight of the need to support and engage Cook County's diverse communities. Last year alone, we supported investments of more than $173 million in vacant and/or properties through tax incentives, which we estimate will result in the creation of over 2,800 jobs and the retention of over 2,700 jobs. We have strengthened our commitment to the Forest Preserves, investing in new or improved amenities and increasing the number of volunteers and visitors while growing as a national leader in conservation and preservation.

These are only some of the things we have been able to accomplish. What it ultimately comes down to is the same belief which drove me to run in the first place: I believe in what we do at the County and I am willing to work harder than anyone else to get it done.


If you are an incumbent, describe your main contributions. Tell us of any important initiatives you've led. If you are a challenger, what would you bring to the job and what would your priority be?

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act we have laid the foundation for a public health system that is responsible and responsive to both patients and taxpayers. For the first time in our history, a greater percentage of our patient population is insured than uninsured, which means we rely less on local tax dollars and are able to provide better care for our patients.

My public safety focus continues to be centered on reducing the over-reliance on pre-trial detention. Previously, the jail averaged over 10,000 detainees a day. By supporting and working with our criminal justice stakeholders, the population has dropped 40% to currently under 6,000. As a result, we have worked with the Sheriff to reduce the size of the jail campus, which costs taxpayers over $330 million annually to maintain.

In addition to strengthening our local economic development tools, we've taken significant steps to better engage at the regional level. In addition to creating a Council of Economic Advisors, chaired by John Rogers, of Ariel Investments, William Osborn, formerly of The Northern Trust, and consisting of business and civic leaders

I've facilitated a regional initiative, bringing together private and public leadership, including the City of Chicago and Chairs of the collar counties. We have several successful initiatives underway, including advancing our region's metal manufacturing, streamlining the antiquated truck permitting system, helping small and medium size businesses export and partnering with the Brookings Institution to attract and leverage Foreign Direct Investment in the region.

Describe your position on transparency in the office and the ease of access to records by the public. If you believe improvements are needed, what are they and how would you go about achieving them?

We approached this by first, making our standards and our goals very clear. Second, we instituted measures to ensure accountability and responsibility to these principles. On my first day in office Ð we released our transition report, which outlines key priorities and ideas for our administration. On our 100th day in office - we released our 100 Day Report Card Ð which gives a status update on all the initiatives from our transition report. Our interactive annual report, Cook County at a Glance, will be available online soon.

One of my first actions as President was to increase the transparency and accountability of our budget process, including requiring a preliminary forecast released to the public as well as a public and online hearing. We have completed an overhaul of the County's website to make it more intuitive and user-friendly, including making it easier to understand and engage with the County's core functions, access documents and records and understand our broader policy goals.

We partnered with the League of Women voters to identify and implement new transparency initiatives for Cook County Board proceedings, including improving resident access to information about County Board proceedings, such as introducing live streaming for all Board meetings and ensuring timely archival of Board proceedings.

How would you manage the overall county budget, particularly as it relates to controlling the expenses of county offices that report to the county board but control their own budgets.

We have passed eight budgets that have closed over $2 billion in deficits, reduced our workforce by 15%, and reduced our indebtedness by 11%. It's clear there is very little willingness for additional taxes. The stark reality is that without revenue, there will be cuts. However, of the County's $3 billion operating budget, only eight percent is under my direct control. Therefore, in order to make effective, strategic cuts moving forward, it will require collaboration.

As President I've implemented the first County-wide performance management initiative in the County's history. It has been critical in building our budgets, streamlining our services and holding ourselves accountable. It has also resulted in tens of millions of dollars in either increased revenue or decreased costs to taxpayers. However, there is more than can be done - specifically a desk audit to bring more transparency and accountability to line items and employee positions across the county.

One of the initiatives of which I'm most proud is the reduction of the pre-trial jail population by over 40 percent. This, in turn, has allowed us to begin reducing the size of the jail campus, one of the largest expenses within the criminal justice system at roughly $330 million per year. In recent years, while both the population and campus has been consistently declining, the staff within the jail has actually been increasing. I would look to work with the Sheriff to develop a concrete plan and timeline to streamline staffing in line with our broader reform efforts.

Describe your leadership style and explain how that will help the entire county board work most effectively and efficiently.

My three guiding principles remain: planning, persistence and gratitude. When it comes to the first two, I've always believes that if you have a vision and are willing to work really hard, you can accomplish just about anything. What it ultimately comes down to is the same belief, which drove me to run in the first place: I believe in what we do at the County and I am willing to work harder than anyone else to get it done. On the latter point, gratitude, I've always believed that in life, there is very little that can be accomplished without collaboration and cooperation. Remember all the people in your life who helped push you, helped shape your thinking, or are just in your corner. I may be an elected official now, but I spent over 30 years working for other organizations and individuals (including candidates), I know how many people it takes to make a vision a reality.

What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?

As Cook County Board President, I also serve as President of the Forest Preserves. Since taking office, we developed master plans for recreation, camping, capital improvements and other key areas to ensure we are effectively managing our natural and cultural resources. At the center of these unprecedented planning efforts is the ambitious Next Century Conservation Plan, which lays out the framework for Cook County to become a national leader in urban conservation. Since the implementation of the Next Century Conservation Plan in 2015, we have made significant improvements to the Forest Preserves through capital investments, expanded volunteerism, and by helping individuals and families of all backgrounds make life-long connections to nature and the outdoors.

Please name one current leader who most inspires you.

US Representative Jan Schakowsky.

What is the biggest lesson you learned at home growing up?

I learned at an early what it means to be civically engaged. These lessons I've carried with me throughout my life.

If life gave you one do-over, what would you spend it on?

I've been in office since 1991 but my one do-over would be to travel and sightsee.

What was your favorite subject in school and how did it help you in later life?

History was by far my favorite subject. If you're going to be a leader in a democracy, it helps to know your country's history.

If you could give your children only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Don't doubt yourself and always believe in your abilities.