Mayoral Candidate Toni Preckwinkle Speaks Out About Ads and Her Criminal Justice Plan

Mayoral Candidate and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is swinging hard with her latest campaign ad about her role in the release of the Laquan McDonal video; but the ads are not without controversy.

The ads debuted almost one week after Preckwinkle attempted to distance herself from Ald. Ed Burke after he was federally charged for extortion. The owner of a Burger King (the exact Burger King tied to the Laquan McDonald shooting), who Burke is charged with extorting, gave a $10,000 contribution to Preckwinkle’s County Board President campaign. The donation was rejected for exceeding the legal limit, and Preckwinkle has asserted that Burke should “step down immediately.”

The ad that emphasized Preckwinkle’s role in the McDonald case were met with chagrin from many activists. The ad stated facts; Preckwinkle released McDonald’s autopsy photos to the public; Preckwinkle called for the dashcam footage to be released; Preckwinkle demanded that former-police-superintendent-turned-current-mayoral-candidate Garry McCarthy should have been fired.

But the ad made little-to-no mention of the activists and organizations who were on the front lines protesting, sparking the anger of 5th ward aldermanic candidate and community activist William Calloway. Calloway believes Preckwinkle is overstating her role for political gain.

“She’s trying to capitalize and it’s wrong,” says Calloway. “She’s only doing this because she’s in hot water over that Burke situation.”

In a brief interview with the Chicago Defender, Preckwinkle takes the time to lay out her new criminal justice platform and addresses some of the current criticisms levied against her.

CD: Can you give us a brief overview of your criminal justice platform.

TP: I think we owe a debt of gratitude to President Obama for looking at policies and procedures of the police department before he left office. One of the priorities of the next mayor has to be implementing the consent decree. The consent decree focuses on two things, being sure that our officers are well-supervised in the field and that they get proper training.

You’re probably aware that best practice across the country is 8 to 10 officers for every sergeant. But in some of our districts, we have 1 sergeant and 30 officers. There’s a real deficit of supervisors. We have to address that.

The second thing we have to address is training–especially crisis, prevention, and de-escalation training. We haven’t invested enough in the professionalization of our police department. This is going to cost money.

Over the last 10 years, we paid over $500 million in police misconduct settlements. It’s much better to invest in the professionalization of our police, proper supervision, and training.
I also want to establish an Office of Criminal Justice in the Mayor’s office, similar to what they have in New York where the focus is on bringing stakeholders together to work on criminal justice reform.

We need a superintendent who is willing to say that there is a “code of silence” in the police department. Eddie Johnson isn’t willing to do that, which is why I said I won’t retain him.

CD: You’ve recently faced a considerable amount of criticism in regards to your current ads reflecting your role in fighting for justice for Laquan McDonald.

5th Ward Aldermanic candidate William Calloway told WBEZ: “She never reached out to us for 2 1/2 years, but now that she’s in hot water because of this … Ed Burke situation, she chose to take this route. It’s understandable, but it’s not acceptable.”

What do you say to critics that believe you are over-inflating your role?

TP: This was a tragedy for all of us. I have a son and a grandson. I don’t know about you but the video was devastating to me.

I want to applaud the courage of McDonald’s family for pursuing this and the community activists who worked so hard over the years to expose the truth about the cover-up. It has been an honor to work with Laquan McDonald’s family. I just want to commend the young people who marched in the streets and made it possible for us to get justice for Laquan.

CD: Are there any specific activists and organizations that you would like to give credit to or highlight in response to the pushback you’ve received?

TP: Well, there are a number of organizations–particularly organizations of young people–that worked so hard to make that happen. Let me just say the autopsy report was initially requested of me by a journalist–Jamie Kalven.  You might want to talk to him about the role I played.

We made the autopsy report available to the family, the journalists, and the activists. It was the basis on which they pursued the effort to get the videotape released and counter the false narrative that the police department was putting forward under Garry McCarthy and Rahm Emanuel.

CD: On the choice to use Laquan McDonald as a campaign platform: Are you trying to make a dig at other candidates and their role…or are you saying that you’re the best candidate in regards for fighting for justice?

TP: I had a very strong criminal justice focus ever since I came into this job. When I came into this office, there were 10,000 people in the jail on a daily basis. There are 4,000 fewer now because we worked with the stakeholders–the State’s Attorney, the sheriffs, the public defenders, the Clerk of the Court, and especially Chief Judge Evans who has been invaluable in this bond court reform effort.

CD: We know Laquan lived a hard life. Foster Care. Juvenile incarceration. Abuse. Two-part question:  How do we prevent Laquan McDonalds from happening? What about your platform can young people of voting age–who live a life similar to Laquan’s– get excited about?

TP: We focused a lot on juvenile justice reform. In Springfield, we worked with advocates on the Raise The Age campaign. Previously, once you were age 17, you went into the adult jail and in the adult system. We’ve now raised the age to 18.

I think that no teenager should be in the jail, but we’ve raised the age one year. That’s important because the juvenile justice system is focused on rehabilitation and not punishment.  If we can keep people in the juvenile system, they’re better served.

Last year, in the legislature, working with the activists, we were able to secure legislation that basically expunged all misdemeanor juvenile records and most felony juvenile records. There were a lot of barriers to expungement and now it’s automatic for misdemeanors, and for most felonies.

CD: Well, thank you Toni for your time.

TP: Take care

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