Hands-down Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is one of the hardest working elected officials on the political forefront. As a former educator, her tenacity to enter politics when she defeated the incumbent, Timothy Evans in 1991 to serve as 4th Ward alderman. She would serve nearly five terms and will go on to become elected to the Cook County Board President seat in 2010.

Since leading the board, Preckwinkle inherited a budget deficit of $500 million in 2011 and rebuilding and finding effective ways to close that gap. She has come under attack by critics opposing employee layoffs and the controversial beverage tax increase that could’ve closed a $200 million windfall and according to Preckwinkle save hundreds of employee layoffs.

The county is facing an $82 million budget shortfall for 2019 and has endured a PR nightmare in the last few weeks, said Preckwinkle addressing constituents at July’s 4th Ward meeting. She still serves as the ward’s Committeeman, meeting with residents at the historic Bronzeville Monumental Baptist Church once a month. Between putting out fires with a recent racially motivated incident with a white man harassing a Latino woman for wearing a shirt that showed the Puerto Rican flag, a Cook County forest preserve officer chose not to de-escalate the scene. This has not slowed down the 71-year-old grandmother who has pushed ahead in supporting rising stars who has worked at some point in her administration from Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to Illinois Democrat candidate for Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton.

Preckwinkle recently made history becoming the first Black woman to chair the Cook County Democratic Party on April 18. A seat recently held by Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. With the Illinois statewide general election and heated gubernatorial race—there is much at stake for the Democrats. Bronzeville Life caught up with her before she spent some quality time vacation time with her granddaughter.

What does that feel like to become the first African American woman Chair of the Democratic Cook County party?

It’s an honor, I’m very grateful to the Cook County Democratic party electing me to serve for the next two years, and I look forward to working hard for the statewide and local candidates.

Why do you feel it’s taken so long for a Black person to hold that role in such a diverse city and a party that has maintained the support of the Black community?

I can’t speak to that. I can only say that I’m honored. Selected in April and look forward to serving the party for the next 2 years.

Can you speak on some of the goals of the party to make sure the support is there for Democratic candidates and current officials as well on a national level for the upcoming presidential election?

Clearly, we need to work hard to raise money for the party to work effectively in the November election and of course in 2020. We need to improve our social media presence–Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Make consistent in upgrading social media presence in our committeeman on a party level and helping them in the wards, the city, townships, and suburbs have a more robust appearance.

Each ward has their Young Democrats to facilitate that message to a younger demographic, primarily we’re in the age of the millennial movement. Should groups such as Young Democrats to have the tools in place to send the message and to help more young voters?

We made Ty Cratic, whose head of the Young Democrats an executive member committee of the party because I felt it was important that the organization is connected to the leadership of the party as a whole. We look forward to his leadership and participation.

The Bud Billiken Parade is celebrating their 89th annual parade and festival this year, with some of the changes with the Charities leadership role to bridge that gap between the mature generation and the younger generation, what does this mean to you as an honorary Grand Marshal?

I’m honored for the recognition and the acknowledgment. I’ve been a participant in the parade forever. The parade is divided between the 3rd and 4th wards. King Drive is the dividing line so always felt as alderman it was my parade as I’m sure Ald. Tillman and Ald. Dowell felt it was their parade. I have a long-standing connection to the Bud Billiken.

I’m a teacher so needless to say, I’m big on back-to-school activities and supporting young people as they head back to school. I’m grateful for the Bud Billiken parades. It focuses on education and the importance of staying in school and doing well.

As we wrap up, what’s important to you about balance? How vital is that for anyone who feels passionate about their career but there’s a challenge to implement that energy in their personal life?

Being an elected official makes it hard to achieve that balance because of the demands on us. I used to say when I was alderman whenever we went out the door, we’re on duty. Whether you’re walking your dog or in the grocery store, people felt free to stop and talk to you, raise issues and sometimes confront you. So, you get used to very public life. It’s hard, at least for me set aside the personal and family time that balances your life. I’m grateful for my grandchildren, I make it a point to do things for them. It takes me out of my professional spirit.

So, it’s about making that time, and having people on your team around you to understand that as a priority?

Yes, I told my team they should help me schedule downtime.

Note: This article was originally published in the inaugural issue of Bronzeville Life Vol. 1 for August/September 2018.