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ELECTIONS 2019 Toni Preckwinkle talks misconceptions, Lightfoot and experience
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Things have seemingly gotten more intense for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle since the Feb. 26 Chicago mayoral election that whittled 14 candidates down to two ( including runoff opponent Lori Lightfoot ) before the April 2 runoff election.

The February results revealed that Lightfoot rode a wave of momentum to take the top position—and they also showed Preckwinkle trailing. Both conclusions surprised some voters.

Since then, Preckwinkle has been on the attack, accusing her opponent of, among other things, having Republican connections. However, each candidate has garnered her share of endorsers and supporters, with Preckwinkle getting backing from people ranging from Chance the Rapper to some LGBTQ politicians to the Chicago Teachers Union.

Windy City Times: What do you feel is the biggest misconception about you?

Toni Preckwinkle: Well, that's a challenge. This is a race in which I think experience matters, and we have two African-American women in the race who are in quite difference arcs in their lives.

I started off as a teacher, I've worked for not-for-profit organizations, was part of the economic team with Mayor Harold Washington's administration, then I spent 19 years as alderman and the last eight years as president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Being a mayor is not an entry-level job; experience matters. With the community-building and addressing public-safety challenges as alderman, and the management experience I've had the last eight years, I think I'm uniquely qualified to face what the next mayor of Chicago has to face.

WCT: So the misconception would be…

TP: I think it's that there isn't much difference between us. An African-American woman will be elected—and that's a great thing—but there are different trajectories in our lives.

WCT: I've seen blowback to your response to the question Carol Marin asked during a [recent] debate. [Note: During a March 7 debate between mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, Preckwinkle lauded Lightfoot's openness about her sexuality when Marin asked each candidate what she admired about the other. Lightfoot later wondered if Preckwinkle's response was "blowing a dog whistle" to conservative voters—a conclusion Preckwinkle labeled "ridiculous."]

Do you see why people might interpret your answer the way Lori did?

TP: I have a very good record on LGBTQ issues, and it was a genuine compliment. I respect people who are honest and open about who they are. I think members of the LGBTQ community who are out and proud are to be commended.

I came out early for marriage equality, and I have been a strong proponent for LGBTQ issues and candidates. I have worked with [Metropolitan Water Reclamation Commissioner] Deb Shore and [state Rep.] Lamont Robinson and [Cook County Commissioner] Kevin Morrison, and I have LGBTQ people as campaign staffers and in my office.

WCT: What do you feel is the biggest challenge the LGBT community faces?

TP: I'm an African-American woman, so I know the challenges I face that are grounded in sexism and racism. And the LGBTQ community faces tremendous challenges. The LGBTQ community, concerning city issues, has told me about coordination issues, attacks on members of the community, the police, murders of the trans community—these are some of the issues.

WCT: Before the runoff, your ads seemed to be more light-hearted. Since then, they seem to be more negative.

TP: There are two ads running—one is positive, and the other is compare-and-contrast. In any campaign, you have a challenge to make sure the voters understand who you are, and to compare and contrast with your opponent. From the very beginning, she's been throwing questions my way and, in the first round, I think we had only positive ads. And she has negative ads, too.

WCT: What would you like to accomplish in your first 100 days as mayor?

TP: I think the first thing to do would be to work with the public superintendent to handle all the challenges we face in terms of public safety. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their home and community.

Early on in my teaching career, I lost a student to gun violence; she was killed in a drive-by shooting. She was basically in the wrong place at the wrong time. I know how devastating these random acts of violence can be.

We've got to get a handle on the violence. We've invested in the cameras and shot-spotters—the technology—but we still have more murders than Los Angeles and New York City combined. That's an indication of the importance of the practicality of community relations; if we don't have good collaboration between police and community, we won't be able to solve crimes because, contrary to what you see on TV, crimes aren't solved in forensics labs—they're solved by talking with people on the street.

Also, we have to hold police accountable and have more training. Nationally, of every 100 murders, a suspect is arrested in 62 or 63 percent of the cases; in Chicago, depending on which research team you believe, it's 15, 16, 17 percent. In eight out of 10 murder cases, the perpetrator goes free—which is devastating in communities that are plagued by violence. People are tempted to take out justice for themselves because they know the criminal-justice system is not going to mete out any justice, and that just continues the cycle of violence.

WCT: What are your thoughts on mayoral and aldermanic term limits?

TP: I'm a history teacher, and I've never been a proponent of term limits. [Laughs] Nationally, I think term limits began as a Republican effort against Franklin D. Roosevelt. I've always said that we determine term limits through elections.

WCT: If you could ask your opponent one question and she had to answer it, what would it be?

TP: I think my opponent portrays herself as a progressive and she has a lot of Republican support. She's taken dark money [a type of campaign contribution] that's been associated with the most conservative and reactionary parts of our political spectrum. She defended the Republican Congressional map during a plaintiff's suit. There are all of these Republican and "dark money" ties.

So my question would be "Why are you taking the dark money and the Republican support? Why are you an advocate for Republican interests?"

See .

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