Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Preckwinkle Perfect Post-Racial Politician

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCChicago.com

    If Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle runs for mayor, governor or senator, race likely will not be an issue in that campaign despite the fact that Toni Preckwinkle is black.

    That wisdom speaks volumes for Illinois and for Preckwinkle.

    Everyone assumes that Preckwinkle, the most universally liked elected official in Chicago, must be planning to convert her popularity into a higher office, either mayor of Chicago, governor of Illinois, or United States senator.

    Wrote Laura Washington in Monday’s Sun-Times:

    Preckwinkle’s name is the No. 1 whisper for Illinois governor in 2014. She knocked down that theory with a chuckle.
    “I’ve got the job I spent two years running for, and I’m going to run for re-election,” she said.
    Preckwinkle says she wants no part of the heavy lifting and travel of a statewide post: “I like sleeping in my own bed every night.”
    She could run for mayor and still accomplish that goal. Don’t count her out on that one.

    Or she could run to succeed Sen. Dick Durbin, if the rumors are true that he is planning to retire in 2014.

    Whatever office she runs for, race will not be an issue. Part of it is that Preckwinkle represented Kenwood and Hyde Park on the City Council for 20 years. No neighborhood in America is better at preparing a black politician to appeal to a multi-racial constituency. Two of the three black senators elected since Reconstruction -- Carol Moseley Braun and Barack Obama -- came from Hyde Park.

    Part of it is that she’ll be following in the footsteps of Obama, a post-racial politician who assured blacks that he was one of them while simultaneously assuring whites that he wasn’t one of *them.*

    And part of it is Preckwinkle herself. Preckwinkle grew up in Minnesota, has a white husband, and does not give off any particular ethnic vibe. She really doesn’t give off any vibe whatsoever. With her short hair, sack suits, round eyeglasses, sensible shoes, and monotone voice, Preckwinkle is, in every sense of the word, a colorless public servant.

    Preckwinkle has already rehearsed the kind of campaign she’d need to run to win statewide. As a candidate for Cook County Board President, Preckwinkle split the black vote with Dorothy Brown and Todd Stroger. She won by piling up votes in white wards and townships. Brown and Stroger couldn’t get white votes, and Terrence O’Brien couldn’t get black votes, but Preckwinkle got both.

    “From the very beginning, we decided we were going to run a campaign that was countywide and not parochial, provincial, ethnic-based, geographic-based,” Preckwinkle told Ward Room in 2010. “There’s some places that I went that I saw Todd or Dorothy and Terry wasn’t there, and some places that I went that only Terry and I were there.”

    As for the example of Obama, “I think I surely benefited from the fact that many of these voters had voted for an African-American for president, but we had to make our case ourselves.”

    There will be nothing remarkable about Preckwinkle becoming mayor or senator -- we’ve had a black mayor and three black senators. As governor, she’d be the third black governor since Reconstruction. (The only current black governor, Deval Patrick, grew up on the South Side, but in the Robert Taylor Homes.) She would also be the first black female governor.

    But making that kind of statement doesn’t matter to Preckwinkle, which is why she could do it, if she chooses. 

    Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!