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Cook County Candidate Talks Planes, Trains and Economic Development

Toni Preckwinkle, the Democratic nominee for Cook County Board President, shares her thoughts on economic development and county government in the south suburbs.

Toni Preckwinkle, the Chicago alderman who ousted incumbent Cook County Board President Todd Stroger in the Democratic primary, sees a Cook County with fewer elected offices, trains speeding at 220 miles per hour and projects drawing businesses to the Southland.

But more immediately, she sees a county with entrenched patronage, huge disparities between rich and poor areas and a $300 million shortfall she expects to rise as negotiated pay raises come due.

"The $300 million is the floor, not the ceiling," Preckwinkle told the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce Monday at the group's monthly Regional Consensus Luncheon.

After what Preckwinkle called a "bruising" primary, the Democratic candidate will face Republican Roger A. Keats and Green Party candidate Thomas Tresser in the Nov. 2 election.

Southland Chamber President Maureen Kelly said it was Preckwinkle's profile along with her message that brought the invite to speak at the Tinley Park Convention Center.

"Part of our mission is to educate and inform our members," Kelly said. "Our other mission is to fill the seats. We thought she would be a good person for both of those."

Preckwinkle said one way to keep the $300 million shortfall – which amounts to about 10 percent of the county's $3 billion budget – from rising would be to negotiate pay freezes with the unions.

"We're going to have to talk to our unions about very, very modest increases in their pay … or no increases, which at this point is better than losing their jobs," she said.

She also talked about reducing the shortfall by reducing elected offices, citing the example of merging the assessor's office with the treasurer's office and other offices related to tax bills.

High-speed rail would be a priority, Preckwinkle said, calling the projects to create trains and tracks capable of transporting people 220 miles an hour good economic development and environmentally friendly. She said she would call for a station in the Southland.

"We can be the hub of a Midwestern high-speed rail system," she said.

Preckwinkle said she does not support plans for 110-mile-per-hour trains capable of traveling on existing tracks owned by freight companies.

As for other economic development, Preckwinkle said the region needs several "more modest" projects, rather than pinning all its hopes on the long-discussed third Chicago-area airport.

She said she would support Southland economic development projects using county powers such as its bonding authority and tax classification programs.

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