Toni Preckwinkle makes history, named chair of Cook County Democratic Party

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Toni Preckwinkle makes history as she becomes the party's first female and African-American chair of the Cook County Democratic Party. (WLS)

It was a Cook County coronation for Toni Preckwinkle Wednesday. When it was all said and done, the current county board president was the only person nominated to be chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Preckwinkle made history as she became the party's first female and African-American chair, something she didn't get to do when she was elected board president.

"Now I have an opportunity that I didn't have in that capacity to be a first, it's kind of fun, said Preckwinkle.

She heads a party that no longer has the same power and clout it did when Mayor Richard J. Daley and others held the post for years.

"You don't get to be kingmaker and make presidents, you don't get to give out all patronage jobs, you don't get to control every endorsement," said UIC Political Science professor Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman.

But, what Preckwinkle does plan to do is make the Cook County Democratic Party more inclusive. A direction many committeemen have been urging the party to do.

"The Democratic Party is the party of inclusion, but yet our party seems to be an exclusive party here in Cook County. I want to make sure we open it up more and engage the electorate," said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward).

Preckwinkle has the challenge of bringing together different factions of her own party, machine candidates with progressive politicians.

In an effort to bridge the two, 22nd Ward Committeeman Michael Rodriguez was elected as Preckwinkle's vice chair. He represents the younger, progressive wing of the party.

Preckwinkle says the party must do more than just slate candidates and help with campaign flyers. "Democratic candidates must have tools and training to run modern effective inclusive campaigns," said Preckwinkle.

Despite the backing of many machine politicians, Preckwinkle is determined to usher the party into a new era. "I'm a leader of the Democratic Party, I would not say I'm the leader of the machine."
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