“I’ve been in this job for 13 years, and this is the first time that I’ve had someone who’s been willing to work with me,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, referring to Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson.
WASHINGTON — There is a new power alliance in Chicago government and politics, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, with relish, took note of it standing next to Mayor Brandon Johnson on Friday, a few yards from the West Wing entrance to the White House.
Preckwinkle, who is also the boss of the Cook County Democratic Party, and Johnson were invited to the White House by the Biden team for the Rose Garden launch of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.
I set up interviews with Preckwinkle and Johnson at the White House, and they happened to be in the walkway leading to the West Wing at the same time before the event. They agreed to a joint interview.
To get started, I asked a nominal question about the gun safety office just to get that out of the way.
Preckwinkle, to my surprise, had something else to say first. She wanted to talk about her alliance with Johnson, sworn into office in May. Preckwinkle’s years of enduring the big mayoral chill are over.
On the fifth floor of the combined City Hall-County Building in the Loop, the offices of the mayor and board president face each other on opposite ends, separated by a long corridor.
But there was little to no two-way traffic. Until now.
It’s glasnost on the fifth.
Johnson, a man who was sort of Preckwinkle’s protégé — a Cook County Board member who served under her and comes out of the same Chicago Teachers Union progressive wing of the Democratic party — is now the mayor.
“First of all, I want to acknowledge that Mayor Johnson is here with us, and I’m very grateful to have him as a partner across the fifth floor in the county-city building,” Preckwinkle said.
“I’ve been in this job for 13 years, and this is the first time that I’ve had someone who’s been willing to work with me and shares my vision of what we need to do in Cook County and in the city of Chicago,” she said.
Those 13 years cover the reigns of Mayors Richard M. Daley, Rahm Emanuel and Lori Lightfoot — who beat Preckwinkle in their 2019 mayoral contest. The CTU endorsed Preckwinkle’s 2019 mayoral bid, and CTU substantially bankrolled the campaign for Johnson, who was also a paid CTU organizer while commissioner.
I asked about the thaw on the fifth floor.
“We meet every couple of weeks, and sometimes it’s in his office,” Preckwinkle said. “More recently, a couple meetings actually [were held] on the 10th floor where I am because we’re remodeling the fifth floor, so we have an accessible board room.”
“But our staffs work together all the time and talk all the time about the big challenges we face, particularly around asylum-seekers and gun violence but across the board,” she said.
I asked Johnson to comment, and he said, “Well, I think the point is, though, it didn’t have to be that way. Obviously, President Preckwinkle has always been amenable to that type of collaboration. I’m happy to partner with county government and President Preckwinkle, and I’ve expressed this multiple times.”
Johnson paid tribute to Preckwinkle for “coming up through the ranks as a progressive leader at a time in which there weren’t too many people identified as such.”
She “laid the groundwork,” Johnson said, for the generation of progressives with whom he identifies.
He named examples: U.S. Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Ill., Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Cook County Commissioner Tara Stamps, who filled Johnson’s seat when he resigned to become mayor. Stamps is a CTU staffer.
Said Preckwinkle, “I’m very grateful to have a partner across the hall, who is prepared to work with me and shares my vision for what we need in the city and in the county.”
Johnson D.C. networking
Johnson’s D.C. trip combined government and political missions, with this week being when the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation is holding its annual conference.
The event draws the who’s who of local, state and federal Black elected officials as well as lobbyists and leaders of non-profit, union and corporate entities.
Johnson spoke at a Friday morning CBC workshop moderated by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., on mental health issues facing Black and brown youths.
After the White House event, Johnson with his crew headed to a panel discussion taking place on the sidelines of the CBC conference, titled “Black Money Matters.” The panel also included U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson, D-Ill., and Johnson’s West Side neighbor, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. Jackson was taking Johnson to the CBC gala on Saturday night, where President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were to speak.
Among those staffing Johnson on this trip were Jason Lee, one of his top advisers, and Christian Perry, the mayor’s political director.
Perry said Johnson is not doing direct fundraising on this swing, “just relationship building, making sure the mayor gets an opportunity to touch as many of the Congress people as he can.”
As I followed Johnson and his entourage out as he was leaving, I learned he was on his way to a dinner with labor leaders. And joining his group was the CTU president, Stacy Davis Gates, who told me she regularly attends the CBC conference. Johnson and Gates piled into separate waiting SUVs and, motorcade-style, drove away.
Source : chicago.suntimes.com