By AARON GETTINGER
Dozens of Chicago religious leaders endorsed County Board President Toni Preckwinkle for mayor at an event this morning in Kenwood, where the candidate reflected on churches as “the frontline of community engagement” and how the progressive tenets of her Unitarian Universalism have affected her career and priorities in public service.
It was Preckwinkle’s first campaign event since filing signatures to run for mayor. It was held at the Lake Shore Cafe, 4900 S. Lake Shore Drive, at the same complex where she announced her run in September.
“Public service can and should cross all sectors and occupations, but the heart of it is often found with our ministers and our churches,” Preckwinkle said, as they best understand a community’s needs, providing after-school and childcare opportunities, as well as “feeding the hungry, keeping families warm during the winter by helping them pay their bills, ensuring our senior citizens have a role in our democracy by driving them to the polls and even providing constituent services.”
The religious leaders, nearly all African Americans, assailed disinvestment on the South and West sides and called for expanded affordable housing in their remarks. They praised Preckwinkle’s work in reducing the number of people incarcerated in Cook County jails and the expansion of healthcare coverage through the CountyCare Medicaid system.
Preckwinkle said she learned her guiding principles at the youth group of Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she grew up. “I learned the meaning of real faith, community-building, grassroots organizing and putting people first,” she said.
The Rev. David Schwartz of the First Unitarian Church of Chicago, 5650 S. Woodlawn Ave., of which Preckwinkle is a member, said she reflects the values of Unitarian Universalism, the liberal religious movement unbounded by a creed but rooted in Christianity.
“She’s in our faith tradition, to tangibly make the world a better place,” Schwartz said, adding that Preckwinkle has been involved in the church’s religious education and teaching before stressing that he – not his congregation – was endorsing her. “She knows how to build coalitions and commitments to make change progressively.”
When asked how her faith affects her daily life, Preckwinkle again talked about her upbringing.
“The Unitarian faith is one that has always been strongly committed to social justice, and that was kind of born-and-bred in our family,” she said. “The commitment to equity and equality was always not just a bulwark of the faith but something that has not just drawn me to the church but kept me there.”