Democratic primary rival accuses Preckwinkle of failing to address crime
The Democratic primary challenger to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle accused the top county official of not doing enough to address rising crime, but the longtime incumbent says there are generational issues at play, and law enforcement is largely the responsibility of local police departments.
Richard Boykin, an Oak Park attorney who was a county commissioner from 2014 to 2018, says if elected he would "fix" the problems of violent crime, from carjackings to retail thefts. Saying the county board president should play a "significant" role in public safety issues, Boykin blamed Preckwinkle for failing to attend meetings of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, of which she is a member by state statute.
"People should not live in fear. The number one obligation of an elected official is to make sure that we protect the people that we represent. This president has failed to do that," Boykin said during a recent virtual forum with Preckwinkle before the Daily Herald Editorial Board.
Preckwinkle, who has been at the helm of county government for the last 12 years, said the county is spending $60 million this year on violence prevention, anti-recidivism and restorative justice programs by way of contracts with community organizations.
But she said day-to-day law enforcement is handled by police departments in cities, towns and villages. And Sheriff Tom Dart's deputies are only responsible for patrolling a small footprint of unincorporated areas -- most of them work at the jail or in courtrooms -- while a handful of towns contract with him for police protection, Preckwinkle said.
She also tied the recent rise in crime to issues created by the pandemic, and said it's happening in other large metropolitan areas as well.
"We're not talking about a problem that's unique to Chicago or Cook County. This is a national challenge," said Preckwinkle, who ran for Chicago mayor in 2019. "And I would suggest that it's a national challenge that results from the extraordinary moment in which we're living. We haven't had a pandemic like this for 100 years. A global pandemic in the last two years is unique in the last 100 years. And then on top of the pandemic you have an economic collapse. Anxiety, stress, depression."
She added that violence is highest in communities that also have the highest levels of unemployment and food insecurity, and lowest levels of educational attainment and life expectancy.
"We've got some long-standing challenges that are result of inequities and structural racism that we've got to address," Preckwinkle said. "And we can't just think, 'OK, what we need to do is invest more in the police.' Surely we need police resources, but we also have to do this community-based work, and we have to invest in community and economic development."
Boykin said if elected, he'd make sure Dart's office is adequately funded, and he promises to work with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to address crime in a way he says Preckwinkle hasn't.
"Why hasn't she fixed it in 12 years? She's had 12 years. She hasn't fixed it. Things have gotten worse under your leadership. They've gotten worse. You haven't fixed it," Boykin told Preckwinkle.
"That's pretty funny," Preckwinkle responded. "These are generational issues in these communities, and the idea that anyone's going to come in -- whatever resources you have -- and fix them in a decade, is ridiculous."
The winner of the June 28 Democratic primary contest will almost certainly be the next Cook County Board president, because no Republicans have filed for the primary ballot. Local in-person voting for the primary begins Monday.