Preckwinkle says county priorities are healthcare, criminal justice reform

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle casts her ballot at Shoesmith School. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

Staff Writer

Just before voting in Kenwood this morning, Toni Preckwinkle (D), who is running unopposed for a third term as President of the Cook County Board, outlined her goals in county government: to build upon the Obamacare-propelled expansion of health insurance and to collaborate with other elected officials and the courts to keep lowering the incarcerated population.

“We’ve spent the past eight years working on sustainability in our healthcare system, and I’m proud of that. We have 330,000 people who are on a Medicaid expansion program, many of whom have gotten health insurance for the first time,” Preckwinkle said, calling it “a real victory for President Obama and for the congressional Democrats who supported this in 2010.”

She said the county jail population has declined from between 9,000 and 10,000 to less than 6,000 under her watch. She said that was the result of cooperation among the stakeholders — “the public defender, the state’s attorney, the sheriff, the clerk of the court, the chief judge” — and because of the now-smaller likelihood of people accused of nonviolent crimes spending the time between their arrests, court appearances and case dispositions in jail.

“That saves money for our taxpayers, and we haven’t seen dramatic increases in the number of people who don’t show up for their trials and hearings or the number of people accused of a new crime while they’re out awaiting disposition of their old case,” Preckwinkle said. Work is ongoing, she said, on “a policy roadmap to get our county focused on both equity and excellence,” saying she would discuss it in detail in a speech to the City Club of Chicago later this month.

She decline to discuss her mayoral candidacy, instead discussing her role as chair of the county Democratic Party. She expects the Democratic nominees for Illinois governor and attorney general, J.B. Pritzker and State Sen. Kwame Raoul (13), to win.

She was optimistic that County Circuit Judge Matthew Coghlan could lose his retention race. He has been accused of misconduct when, as a prosecutor, he submitted erroneous evidence that contributed to the 23-year wrongful imprisonment of two Latino men. As a judge, Coghlan twice refused to grant a post-conviction hearing to a man convicted of murder, even after a higher court ordered him to do so. He has also been attacked for imposing light sentences on police officers.

When asked about the elections for the U.S. House of Representatives, Preckwinkle said that Sen. Dick Durbin (D) told her last weekend that he is optimistic about the Democrats’ chances to flip the chamber.