Toni Preckwinkle Defends Her Record Amid Primary Challenge

In the summer of 2020, Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle appeared to nod to the calls for justice pouring into the streets of Chicago as she broke with other leading Illinois Democrats to announce her support for reduced police spending.

“I’m in favor of reducing and refocusing our investment in law enforcement,” Preckwinkle said in July after the board overwhelmingly approved a token resolution titled “Justice for Black Lives.”

That measure says the county must “redirect money from police and incarceration to public services not controlled by law enforcement.”

Two years later, Preckwinkle’s opponent in the June 28 Democratic primary, former Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, is quick to list her past comments when she claimed he is the pro-law enforcement candidate.

“She gave in to the ‘George Floyd crowd,’ to this whole ‘defund the police’ movement,” Boykin told the Tribune. “And it was totally the wrong approach to take. The police need to know that we are behind them.”

Preckwinkle recently chuckled when asked if she stuck to her words — which she insisted was not endorsement of police defunding.

“Of course I believe what I said,” Preckwinkle, who has served as district president since 2010, said in an interview with the Tribune.

She then tried to prove that America’s latest explosion of gun violence was largely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s not just us; it’s all over the country,” Preckwinkle said. “It’s just a very, very difficult moment, not just here in this country, but all over the world. And I’m just hopeful that we’ll gradually work our way out of this.”

Preckwinkle argued that the main goal of the county’s resolution was to commit to community investments, such as anti-violence programs, which will receive a $65 million boost over the next three years — not to cut back on what it says. its the “humble” 500 member Cook County Police Department.

Ultimately, the sheriff’s office has more than recouped a 4% budget cut from 2021 and now has $631.5 million this year.

“The sheriff’s budget fluctuates,” Preckwinkle said. “It doesn’t reflect defunding. It reflects the fluctuation from year to year.”

Recent crime fears have been a sticking point for Boykin, an Oak Park resident who represented Chicago’s western suburbs and West Side until he lost re-election in 2018 to Preckwinkle-backed candidate Brandon Johnson. Last year, the number of firearms homicides hadn’t been seen in Cook County since the 1990s, according to the medical researcher, although the total is slightly lower this year.

Boykins’ accusations of the local criminal justice system often lean towards the responsibilities of elected officials other than Preckwinkle — such as Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans and state attorney Kim Foxx. But he insists the CEO is also at fault for affirming their policies and controlling their budgets. Boykin voted for all of Preckwinkle’s budgets while serving on the district administration from 2014 to 2018.

He cited two initiatives that Preckwinkle supported: reducing the prison population from its peak of over 10,000 about a decade ago, and Evans’ 2017 bail reforms that reduced reliance on cash bonds.

“(Preckwinkle) has been totally soft on crime and as a result we have near virtual lawlessness in Cook County,” Boykin said.

In 2017, in response to then-President Donald Trump’s suggestion that Chicago enlist the National Guard to fight crime, Boykin called on UN peacekeepers to occupy the streets of Chicago to prevent the “silent genocide” in the black. communities of the city. Boykin also led a gun violence task force alongside Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in 2016.

Preckwinkle said Boykins criticized her track record on public safety were “all garbage”.

“The prisons in this country are at the intersection of racism and poverty, and the idea that just because you are poor you have to stay in prison until your case is settled, I think is deeply unjust,” said Preckwinkle. † “We have moved away from cash bail for those kinds of (minor) offenses in our criminal justice system. And I think that’s smart government policy.”

Boykin pledged to crack down on the crime, swearing: “I am ready to increase the number of inmates charged with gun offenses in the near term. We are not going to release people with gun crimes.”

His stance is reminiscent of the approach taken by Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, who also fired shots at county officials in a recurring feud that escalated last week when the mayor said judges should not allow people charged with violent crimes to allowed on bail because they are “guilty”.

Toni Preckwinkle Defends Her Record Amid Primary Challenge

Boykin said this public blame game should alarm voters because it signals a dysfunction. Preckwinkle, who unsuccessfully faced Lightfoot in the second round of the 2019 mayoral election, claimed she is more focused on finding holistic solutions to crime, whether City Hall is with her or not.

“We have a system in which you are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Preckwinkle said. “You could recognize the moment we’re in and say, ‘We’re all working together to tackle this,’ and I’ve tried to do that. But it’s extremely frustrating when the mayor and the chief of police point the finger. ”

Preckwinkle’s longstanding ethos of addressing what she believes are the root causes of violence and poverty took a big lead last year when Cook County received $1 billion in federal funds under the American Rescue Plan Act. She spent about a third of that amount on community initiatives, including a two-year $42 million guaranteed income pilot and a new program to purchase medical debt.

The board chairman also praised balancing two pandemic budgets without new taxes and making progress in the historically fraught march towards pension financing.

Boykin said, however, that Cook County residents shouldn’t forget about Preckwinkle’s unpopular and now-repealed soda tax or that she’s reinstated a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike. And he said her refusal now to freeze county-imposed taxes on gas amid staggering prices shows the same propensity to tax overrun.

“The current board chairman and board have made Cook County a tax island,” said Boykin, who also serves as spokesperson for the 2023 mayoral candidate and gas-giving architect Willie Wilson. Boykin did propose a tax on ammunition that the board later incorporated.

Preckwinkle replied that a suspension of the gas tax would be “bad law and order and shortsighted”.

“We haven’t made the right investments in infrastructure for the past 50 years and we need to keep making those investments because good infrastructure is the foundation of a strong economy,” Preckwinkle said. “So no, I don’t support the idea of ​​gas tax holidays, as tempting as it may be politically.”

But perhaps the biggest apparent philosophical difference between Preckwinkle and her challenger can be summed up with Boykin’s response to the racial justice movement after Floyd’s murder.

“My mind is — and I’m African American — everyone’s life matters,” Boykin said. “One life lost is too many. Whether African American, Asian, Hispanic or White, everyone matters in Cook County.”

Preckwinkle, who is also black, said that position ignores the unique history of black people in America that stretches from slavery to contemporary systemic racism, noting that “the police in this country are rarely accused of shooting white people on street, but they shoot black and brown people all the time.”

Her thinking seemed to reflect Boykins’ own feelings as he served on the district administration and spoke about police brutality against the black community, even sponsoring a resolution calling on then-President Barack Obama to outline best practices for reducing police killings. reduce black men.

Boykin, however, said he is not disturbed by his critics from the left, insisting that he is a lifelong Democrat who grew up in Englewood and now only draws attention to what he believes to be a universal crime fatigue.

“Communities want the same thing: they want security,” Boykin said. “Everything rises and falls on safety.”

The primary winner will face libertarian Thea Tsatsos in November’s general election.

The AD Quig of the Tribune contributed.

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