Toni Preckwinkle is running against Lori Lightfoot to succeed Rahm Emanuel and become Chicago’s first female African American mayor. The two women defeated 12 other candidates to advance to the runoff, reports The Chicago Tribune.
Preckwinkle is the first woman to hold her current position of Cook County Board President. She was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and moved to Chicago to study. She turns 72 this month.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Preckwinkle Calls Herself a Progressive
Preckwinkle is a Democrat who wants to reduce the number of detainees in Cook County Jail and reform the health system. Not everyone views her as a progressive, though, with former opponents Willie Wilson accusing Preckwinkle of taking credit for “‘Arrogantly stealing credit’ for a bail reform campaign that he championed,” and Troy LaRaviere seeing her as using the progressive label as “a matter of convenience for social issues–not financial ones,” reports Chicago Sun Times.
According to her website, Preckwinkle wants to increase minimum wage not just to its $13 per hour hike in 2019, but to $15 per hour. Preckwinkle also wants to quadruple the city’s investment in small business microloans to $4 million and recruit matching partners. In 2012, she defended Chicago’s decision to decriminalize cannabis in small amounts.
Preckwinkle also aims to prioritize investigating the many unsolved murders of transgender women of color and designate the cases as suspected hate crimes. “The time is long overdue for Chicago to show dignity and respect for transgender lives,” Preckwinkle is quoted as stating on her website.
2. Her Political Career Began in High School
Preckwinkle volunteered on her first campaign for a city council candidate—Katie McWatt, the first African American woman to run for the office—when Preckwinkle was in high school. She continued to work in politics throughout her college career. In 2010 Preckwinkle herself became the first African American woman when she was elected as Cook County Board President.
According to a 2008 New Yorker cover story, Preckwinkle met Obama in 1995 and “soon became an Obama loyalist, and she stuck with him in a State Senate campaign that strained or ruptured many friendships but was ultimately successful.”
Preckwinkle has spent considerable time in public service, serving in numerous roles including for two years as President of the Disabled Adult Residential Enterprises (DARE) and on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. In 2015, she delivered the Practioner Series keynote address on “The Value of Public Service” at National Louis University.
When Preckwinkle took office as Cook County Board President in December 2010, she developed a policy agenda focused on public safety, health care reform, and economic reform.
3. She’s No Stranger to Scandal
Chicago Alderman Edward Burke was accused of “shaking down a restaurant magnate” to help fund Preckwinkle’s campaign; she also played dumb about sexual misconduct allegations against her chief of staff; and had to fire her security chief “following an investigation that found a government SUV assigned to her executive detail was illegally used to carry political materials,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Burke is facing federal charges for allegedly muscling a Burger King franchisee for a $10,000 campaign contribution. The alderman began working for Trump International Hotel & Tower in 2006. Preckwinkle is only one of four early candidates with close ties to Alderman Burke, and sought to distance themselves from him after the Burger King shakedown came to light.
Preckwinkle has made efforts to reverse perceptions of her role as part of Chicago’s machine politics and instead puts forth her experience as an asset. The New York Times reports a Preckwinkle ad as reading “She’s not from the machine, but she’s a boss.”
Not everyone is buying it. Preckwinkle’s former opponent and front runner Susana Mendoza said in a statement, “Another day, another scandal from Toni Preckwinkle. Just like her illegal campaign contribution from an alleged extortion scheme, the sexual harassment allegations against her chief of staff, and the head of her security detail she fired after getting caught using a county vehicle for political purposes, Toni Preckwinkle doesn’t come clean until she’s busted.”
4. She Started out as a School Teacher
Preckwinkle made unsuccessful runs for 4th ward alderman in 1983 and 1987 before finally winning in 1991 and serving five four-year terms in an alderman career spanning nearly twenty years. She was then elected as Cook County Board President in 2010.
But before politics, Preckwinkle was a high school history teacher for ten years. Her ex-husband was also a teacher. Her grandchildren now attend Chicago Public School. “As mayor, I commit to a vision of our education system that values, listens, and represents the students and families of Chicago,” says Preckwinkle.
Preckwinkle arrived came to Chicago from St. Paul, Minnesota in order to study at the University of Chicago, where she earned a BA and MA. She taught at several different Chicago Public high schools over the span of her 10-year career.
5. She was Married for 44 Years
Zeus Preckwinkle was a middle school teacher at Ancona Montessori School when the couple met. Zeus and Toni Preckwinkle have two adult children. They divorced in 2013 after 44 years of marriage. Preckwinkle was fiercely private about the matter.
Her son Kyle was equally tight-lipped about his mother’s alleged role in his employers’ benefiting from Preckwinkle’s position as a member of the Chicago City Council.
Gery Chico, a former mayoral opponent of Preckwinkle, also disclosed having relatives who had done business with the city, but not nearly to the extent of Preckwinkle’s long-standing involvement with Chicago real estate and construction companies.