Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle endorsed Brandon Johnson’s bid for Chicago mayor against Paul Vallas on Tuesday morning, describing Johnson as “the leader who reflects our vision, our values, and our hopes for our city.”
“As a Cook County commissioner, he’s been focused on working families on the West Side and beyond. He successfully championed efforts to bring more transparency and equity to public safety. He’s been a leader in the county’s efforts to eliminate crushing medical debt. He’s also been a stalwart supporter of small businesses,” Preckwinkle said at a news conference standing next to Johnson outside the Cook County building. “He will bring to the mayor’s office a profound sense of responsibility, a commitment to honesty, and a healthy dose of courage, and believe me, he’s going to need all of it.”
Like Johnson is now, Preckwinkle was the Chicago Teachers Union’s chosen candidate for her unsuccessful mayoral bid in 2019 after she voiced strong support for an elected school board as well as a vow to freeze charter school expansions and closures of public schools.
“You won’t find much better preparation than standing in front of a classroom full of middle schoolers or teenagers,” Preckwinkle said Tuesday of Johnson, who’s also served as a CTU organizer.
Though Preckwinkle and Johnson have been longtime allies and are both former teachers, Preckwinkle — chair of the Cook County Democratic Party and 4th Ward Democratic committeeperson — did not endorse in the first round of the mayoral election, citing her longstanding relationships with several candidates, including Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Rep. Kam Buckner, Ald. Roderick Sawyer and Ald. Sophia King.
In the waning days leading up to the first round of voting last week, however, Preckwinkle’s campaign did issue a text alert to certain voters against Vallas, referring voters to a Tribune story about Vallas’ Twitter account “liking racist posts,” and warning: “Don’t be fooled. Chicago deserves a mayor who isn’t racist.”
Tuesday, she suggested Johnson had been her pick all along. The two have been close allies since his campaign for county board in 2018, and Preckwinkle confirmed Tuesday she had been lobbying fellow elected officials in the days following the Feb. 28 election to rally around him.
Johnson and Vallas came out on top to advance to the April 4 runoff, thwarting Lightfoot’s bid for a second term even before the second round of voting.
Preckwinkle, who lost to Lightfoot four years ago, said Tuesday she “had the stupid idea that on March 1, I was going to be able to rest after the Feb. 28 election. And then, of course, my candidate won, and I’ve been making calls on his behalf to Democrats ever since. I’ve been encouraged by the response that we’ve gotten. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
One of Johnson’s former rivals in the mayoral campaign, Sawyer, has already endorsed Vallas. Asked whether he’d spoken with other campaign rivals, including Garcia, Johnson said he’d had “several conversations” with the other candidates who ran for mayor “and those conversations are going well.”
Johnson defeated incumbent Commissioner Richard Boykin — a Preckwinkle antagonist — in the Democratic primary in 2018, earning her endorsement and financial support. Boykin had helped lead opposition to Preckwinkle’s short lived tax on sweetened beverages — known as the pop tax — which was supported by labor unions as a way to avert layoffs in the county’s budget.
At the time, Johnson painted Boykin as the big business candidate aligned with the Republican Party. That year, four Preckwinkle rivals on the board — Boykin, Tim Schneider, John Fritchey and Gregg Goslin — lost their reelection campaigns, clearing the way for commissioners more friendly to Preckwinkle’s agenda.
Asked whether Johnson, who was just sworn in to his second term as a county commissioner, had the administrative chops to run the city, Preckwinkle said, “I think you have to remember, when I was alderman, I had a staff, a full time staff of three and a part time staff two. The critical challenge is finding good people who are willing to work with you,” she said. “It’s all about recruiting good people, and I have confidence that Brandon is going to do exactly that.”
Vallas has touted endorsements from Black leaders including retired longtime Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis.
Also Tuesday, Vallas released the first TV ad of the runoff season in a 30-second spot featuring former Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who endorsed Vallas last week, promising that the former schools chief would be a “mayor for all Chicagoans.”
Tribune’s Alice Yin contributed.
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March 7, 2023 at 12:53PM