By Ikenna Asomba
Have you ever visited Cook County in Chicago, Illinois, the United States of America? Steering the ship of the county comprising of over 5, 194,675 is a dedicated woman and highly cerebral public servant, Toni Preckwinkle.
Preckwinkle is the 35th president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, an office she has held since 2010. She leads a team of highly intellectual Board of Commissioners, working tirelessly to change the face of Cook County into what it is today. Indeed, it’s not yet uhuru as it is work in progress for President Preckwinkle and her team.
A dedicated and effective public servant, President Preckwinkle has worked tirelessly and collaboratively to reshape County government through increased fiscal responsibility, transparency and improved services.
As the top executive in Cook County, President Preckwinkle oversees one of the nation’s largest public health and hospitals systems and one of the nation’s largest criminal justice systems.
President Preckwinkle is a lifelong advocate for equity and equality, and through her work as president, has fought to improve health care access, bring increased fairness to the criminal justice system and expand employment training opportunities for some of the County’s most disadvantaged youth.
Leveraging more than 30 years of political experience and leadership, President Preckwinkle has restored credibility to County government, solving for more than $2.1 billion in budget deficits, cutting $851 million in expenditures and passing balanced budgets each year of her tenure.
Through the President’s leadership, Cook County used the Affordable Care Act to create CountyCare, a managed care program for Medicaid-eligible residents which now has about 400,000 members.
President Preckwinkle is a nationally recognized leader in the drive to reduce unnecessary and costly incarceration of non-violent offenders in the criminal justice system. The pretrial population at the Cook County Jail has been reduced by more than 30 percent since she took office in 2010 and in 2017, the MacArthur Foundation awarded Cook County one of its highly competitive Safety and Justice grants in recognition of the County’s progress in criminal justice reform and to support its continued efforts.
At the same time President Preckwinkle has successfully fought for juvenile justice reform, reducing the number of children tried as adults and the population in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. She championed reform of expungement laws to ensure that juvenile records do not keep young people from productive adult lives. For her efforts, President Preckwinkle was honored in 2017 with the inaugural State Champion Award from the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
President Preckwinkle is also president of the Forest Preserves of Cook County the largest forest preserve districts in the country spanning 69,000 acres. Under her leadership, the Forest Preserves have been reborn as a public asset providing recreational, educational and ecological opportunities.
Before she was elected Cook County Board President, President Preckwinkle served 19 years as Alderman of the 4th Ward, building a reputation for progressive independence. She replaced failed public housing with viable mixed-income development that included the first housing built and marketed in North Kenwood and Oakland since World War II. She fought for a living wage, public education and against payday lending and gun violence. Prior to holding elected office, President
Preckwinkle taught high school history for 10 years. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago. She is the mother of two and the grandmother of three.