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Toni Preckwinkle, Tom Dart will both seek reelection to Cook County posts in 2022 – Chicago Tribune

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle will run for a fourth term as head of the nation’s second largest county, she announced one day before her fellow Democrat, Sheriff Tom Dart, also rolled out a reelection campaign for 2022.

Preckwinkle did not speak during a one-minute announcement posted Thursday on her official campaign website; instead a stream of audio from local newscasters narrates her various initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic. But she said during a news conference on emergency rental assistance Friday that she has more to do in Cook County.

“My joke is that I’m a glutton for punishment,” Preckwinkle quipped when asked why she sought a fourth term.

She later added, “We have some real challenges now in response to the pandemic, and I look forward to working with staff and advocates and residents in Cook County to promote and secure recovery from the economic collapse that has followed the pandemic.”

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, left, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have both announced they will run for reelection next year.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, left, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have both announced they will run for reelection next year. (Antonio Perez, Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)

Meanwhile, Dart, head of Cook County Jail and a roughly 500-officer police force, posted Friday on Facebook that he plans to seek a fifth term. In his campaign rollout, he touted his experience since 2006 in mental health reforms within the criminal justice system and “ensuring the jail is a safer place.”

“With the significant increase in concerns over public safety and violence in the Chicago region, now is not the time for those of us with crucial experience and a proven track record to walk away,” Dart said. “That’s why I’m running again for Cook County Sheriff.”

Dart already has a challenger in Carmen Navarro Gercone, a Cook County Circuit Court employee who announced her campaign for sheriff on Friday. In a brief statement to the Tribune, Navarro Gercone said she wants to tackle “the violence plaguing our communities” during a trying time for Cook County.

“Today, I am launching my campaign to become the next Cook County Sheriff because the county is in a state of crisis,” she wrote. “It is time for new leadership.”

The two campaign launches for sheriff were first reported by Politico. In a text to the Tribune, Circuit Court Clerk Iris Martinez backed her employee for sheriff, writing, “She is the real deal.”

For Preckwinkle, the 2022 election will be the 74-year-old’s latest in a decadeslong political career that began with her 1991 election to Chicago City Council as 4th Ward alderman. It saw her become the first woman elected Cook County Board president in 2010 — and put her within spitting distance of becoming the first Black woman mayor of Chicago two years ago, only to lose to Lori Lightfoot in the runoff.

But it was the failed bid in 2019 that led Preckwinkle to reverse an earlier decision not to seek a fourth term, she said.

“When I decided to run for mayor, I realized that I had a lot of things that I wanted to do, both for the city and the county,” Preckwinkle said. “With the resources that are available from the federal government‚ we have a tremendous opportunity to, as the president (Joe Biden) says, ‘Build back better.’ And I want to be part of that work.”

Preckwinkle’s current four-year term has been most recently dominated by the coronavirus, as she oversees two safety-net hospitals and a public health apparatus stretching across most of the suburbs during the pandemic. In addition, she was tasked with plugging a $409 million budget gap for 2021.

Ultimately, she allocated about $76 million in CARES Act funds to economic development initiatives such as small business grants, rental and mortgage assistance, job training and more. She has said she will use American Rescue Plan dollars similarly and directed another $73 million of federal aid toward more rental relief earlier this year.

Preckwinkle passed a budget for 2021 that, unlike Lightfoot’s, balanced the county’s fiscal shortfalls without raising or adding taxes. But she did tap into reserve funds and lay off hospital workers, drawing the ire of the nurses union. An 18-day strike by the Service Employees International Union Local 73 this summer over a new contract too frayed Preckwinkle’s usually strong ties to labor interests.

Also under the county’s control is a criminal justice system, though that is run by independently elected officials, including Dart. Still, Preckwinkle, along with her protege, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, have championed Chief Judge Timothy Evans’ bail reform efforts and touted the depopulation of Cook County Jail over the last decade. That has sometimes led to Chicago police brass and Lightfoot pinning blame for the city’s violent crime on the county.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in terms of criminal justice reform,” Preckwinkle said. “When I came into office, there were 11,000 people in the jail, including people who were detained because they could not pay even modest cash bonds for nonviolent offenses — drug offenses, shoplifting, not paying your child support, traffic offenses. The jail population is now, even in this moment of crisis, down to about 6,000.”

Other notable moments of Preckwinkle’s tenure as County Board president include an unpopular and short-lived soda tax and the introduction of an expanded Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, known as CountyCare.

Preckwinkle has also served as chair of the Cook County Democratic Party since 2018.

She and Dart join Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, two Democrats currently serving their first term, in their announcements that they’re running for reelection in 2022. Preckwinkle has not met any challengers yet, but the primary is not until June.

Dart, 59, has billed himself as a progressive-minded executive of the nation’s third-largest jail system, often speaking out on the need for compassion before punishment when it comes to the thousands of detainees with mental illnesses under his watch.

Dart, who mulled a mayoral bid for 2019 but ultimately opted out, launched a pilot initiative to get individuals charged with misdemeanors into treatment instead of jail and added programs to connect detainees with mental health resources upon release.

Following the 2008 housing crisis, he suspended foreclosure evictions in Cook County for a little over a week, rankling the big banks.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dart repeatedly pushed back on criticism of Cook County Jail becoming a hot spot for the virus. During a two-month span, more than 700 detainees tested positive for the coronavirus, with at least seven dying, and conditions prompted a federal lawsuit. Activists have also protested outside the Southwest Side facility in response to the infections and called for his budget to be defunded.

Dart, in turn, has touted a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found the sheriff successfully beat back a COVID-19 outbreak during the first wave of the pandemic.

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