Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle told reporters Wednesday that she intends to serve her full four-year term if re-elected this year, but did not rule out switching gears and running against Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015.
Speaking to reporters after the County Board meeting, Preckwinkle said she told Emanuel at a breakfast “about a month ago” that she has work she wants to complete at the county level during a second term.
“I said to him what I say to everybody, which is, I’m running for re-election for the job I’ve got. You know, I didn’t run for this job as a platform to something else,” she said.
Preckwinkle pointed to her focus on improving the county’s hospital and public safety systems. She said progress has been made during her first term on the health care end but that much more still needs to be done on public safety, particularly lowering the population at the County Jail and overhauling the way criminal suspects go through bond court.
“In my view, although some things on the to-do list are checked off, there are a lot that remain. I’m going to try to address those in my second term,” she said.
Preckwinkle was asked whether she assured Emanuel she would not run against him. “I told him what I just said to you, that I was going to run for re-election for the job I have, and that I have an agenda I need to make more progress on in my next four years,” she said.
Pressed to make a promise about her intentions, Preckwinkle offered the following reply: “I said I’m running for the job I have, and that it’s my intention to be in that job for the term.”
Asked again if she would rule out running for mayor, Preckwinkle replied: “I’m running for re-election for the job I’ve got, which is on the ballot as I recall in November of 2014.”
It’s long been practice in politics not to make blanket declarations walling off a run for higher office. Preckwinkle is raising money, and keeping the door open even a crack for a mayoral run helps that effort. Donors are more likely to write checks --- and bigger ones --- to someone who could maybe possibly run for mayor than to a County Board president.
Take the case of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. She talked about running for governor for the first half of 2013 and raised $1.5 million before saying over the summer that she would instead seek re-election.
Preckwinkle has a campaign fundraiser Thursday night at a West Loop restaurant. Individual tickets start at $50, with those wanting to “chair” the fundraiser asked to cough up $5,000.
The idea of Preckwinkle running for mayor has remained a source of fascination in political Chicago in large part because no other candidates have stepped forward to challenge Emanuel despite criticism of his first-term policies by the Chicago Teachers Union and other groups who have called for a change at City Hall and sought a credible alternative to the man in office.
Emanuel’s poll numbers have suffered among African-Americans and other Chicago voter groups. But he boasts a formidable campaign fund, the bully pulpit of the highest-profile post in the city and a reputation for exacting revenge on political opponents, which may leave some possible challengers leery of throwing their hats in the ring.