Here’s some news Ward Room missed, courtesy of a relative who subscribes to Governing magazine. Our own Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was named one of the magazine’s 2012 Public Officials of the Year, and honored at a banquet in Washington, D.C.
Her first days on the job in December 2010 came with a big surprise: a previously undisclosed $487 million budget deficit. But Preckwinkle has never been one to back down from a challenge. By finding new revenue sources and cutting agency budgets by an average of 16 percent, she closed that budget gap in a matter of days, and then set out to fix the chronically cash-strapped county for good.
Preckwinkle, who started her career as a history teacher, closed that deficit while making good on a campaign promise to roll back a widely unpopular sales tax hike implemented by her predecessor. That reduced the burden for residents previously saddled with the highest combined sales tax rate of any major U.S. city.
Using a performance management system, Preckwinkle also spearheaded efforts to cut costs and rein in inefficiencies. The initiative has paid off, with county residents receiving property assessment bills early for the first time since 1978. “In just one year on the job, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has made county government practically unrecognizable,” a Chicago Sun-Times editorial gushed.
Preckwinkle is known for being outspoken, but her 19 years as a city alderman taught her that a good leader must bring everybody to the table. So before Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office last year, Preckwinkle met with him. The two agreed it didn’t make sense to share a space -- both governments are housed in the same downtown Chicago building -- and not work together. They have since merged workforce training, revenue collection and purchasing operations, collectively saving $33 million in the first year.
Preckwinkle was one of two local officials to win the honor. Other Public Officials of the Year are were New Mexico Gov. Brian Sandoval; California State Auditor Elaine Howle; Connecticut Commissioner of Department of Children and Families Joette Katz; Michigan Technology Director John E. Nixon; Joplin, Mo., City Manager Mark Rohr; and Bruce Hanna and Arnie Roblan, co-speakers of the Oregon House of Representatives.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.