And at a luncheon Wednesday, hosted by the Albany Park and Lincoln Square Ravenswood chambers of commerce, Preckwinkle did not sound like a candidate — she didn't pander to the many local business owners in attendance when she announced her support for an increase in the minimum wage.
"I don't think anyone in this room would like to live on $17,000 a year," she said to the audience at Tortuga's Cantina, 3224 W. Lawrence Ave. "I don't believe the current minimum wage is a living wage."
She also didn't shy away from criticizing the state's leadership or even residents, who she said have been too willing to put up with inept leadership rather than stump for fresh faces in need of financial and volunteer support.
"We, in the state of Illinois, have to take responsibility for the people we've elected," she said.
She added: "It all comes back to us. Most people think if they vote, they've done their duty. We've got to ... hold [elected officials] accountable. That's the only way we're going to have better leadership."
Preckwinkle made those remarks in response to questions after a speech that outlined the duties of her job, which she plans to keep in the immediate future. It begins with economic development.
"Chicago and Cook County are the hub of the Midwest," she said, accounting for half of the jobs and population in an area that stretches from Milwaukee into Indiana.
In today's global economy, Chicago isn't competing with New York City and Los Angeles when it comes to attracting jobs and development, it's competing with Beijing and London — and not just as Chicago but as an entire region, she said.
"We think of ourselves as a world-class city and we certainly are," said Preckwinkle, but she also noted that the area's gross regional product, which was once above average, has been on a downward spiral.
"We're not going to be successful unless we can lift the whole region," she said.
To that end, one of Preckwinkle's goals is to increase regional collaboration. She referenced an early win on that front: the announcement in June that a seven-county region in Illinois, including Cook County, had received a special designation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce making it eligible for a share of $1.3 billion in federal funds to goose manufacturing.
Shoring up the county's transportation network by investing in bridges and roads is another priority, she said.
That particular emphasis at the county level hit home with those working in the trenches at the neighborhood level.
Ald. Rey Colon (35th) — in attendance at the luncheon along with Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) and Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) — is receiving money from the county to help fund a study of traffic patterns around Logan Square's iconic monument.
Improving traffic "helps the business district," said Colon.
For Rudy Flores, executive director of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood chamber, the Ravenswood manufacturing corridor came to mind when Preckwinkle mentioned transportation.
"Getting freight to these companies is important," he said. "How many times do you see trucks getting stuck under bridges. Our roads can't even handle getting deliveries."
Preckwinkle also addressed Illinois' pension crisis, noting that the county's pension is in comparatively good shape, but only because other pensions are in far more dire straits.
"Only in Illinois would 58 percent funded be considered good," she said. "You want to be 80 percent."
A reform bill crafted over the course of two years received support from more than 60 percent of the county workforce, Preckwinkle said, and passed the Illinois Senate. It now awaits approval from the House.
"We're not changing the benefits of retirees," she emphasized. Rather, current workers will pay more into the pension fund and retire later, among other concessions, she explained.
"If we don't deal with this pension crisis," she said, "we're facing at best financial instability ... at worst financial ruin."
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