Credit: Marc Monaghan

Cook County Board president Toni Preckwinkle

No one likes to be chewed out, of course, but collectively we’re frequently relieved to realize there’s a grown-up in the room who will tell the unruly kids to knock it off so things don’t get too out of hand. Around these parts, that’s often Cook County Board president—and former schoolteacher—Toni Preckwinkle. Since being sworn in last December, Preckwinkle has wielded her blunt-talking, no-nonsense style to ax scores of county patronage employees, cut millions from the budget, and improve access to government data and operations. And woe unto anyone who dares to stand in her path. In her six months on the job, Preckwinkle has chastised not just her predecessor, Todd Stroger, for doing his substantial part to get the county’s finances into the mess they’re in, but also Cook County assessor Joseph Berrios (for hiring family members), Sheriff Tom Dart (for not cutting enough from his budget), and Governor Pat Quinn (for not moving fast enough to repay the county for Medicaid bills). And these guys are all Preckwinkle allies. It’s a practice she honed during 19 years as Fourth Ward alderman. Preckwinkle didn’t go out of her way to piss off Mayor Daley—pragmatic as well as independent, she joined her colleagues in supporting most of his citywide initiatives, including his plan for the 2016 Olympics. But she couldn’t hold back all the time, ripping him and his administration now and then for waste and insensitivity to African-Americans. Along the way she also expressed disapproval of preservationists who opposed the city’s plan to clear the old Michael Reese hospital site; constituents who requested residential parking restrictions despite her philosophical opposition to them; my colleague Ben Joravsky for knocking the city’s tax increment financing program; and that out-of-line guy Barack Obama for not remaining progressive enough. “Can you get where he is and maintain your personal integrity?” she asked aloud during a 2008 interview with the New Yorker—before stating that she would politely refrain from answering. —Mick Dumke