Toni Preckwinkle won election to the office of Cook County Board President with a sweeping victory. After years of alleged corruption by outgoing President Todd Stroger, she campaigned as an outside reformer ready to clean up the office and eliminate fraud and waste.
But the Chicago Sun-Times reported Monday that Preckwinkle is following in her predecessor's footsteps in one particular regard: pushing for a large raise for a newly-hired staffer who has longtime personal and financial ties to the President.
Mary Laraia, hired by Preckwinkle to fill the number two position at the county's Forest Preserve District, is filling a post with a $111,908 annual salary. But Preckwinkle is pushing to raise that salary to $155,172, a more than 40 percent increase.
The Sun-Times describes Laraia's connection to Preckwinkle:
Laraia contributed $2,250 to Preckwinkle's campaign for Cook County Board president last year, according to campaign-finance reports.
Laraia's husband, Andrew J. Mooney, appointed by Mayor Daley last year as the acting Commissioner of the Department of Community Development, contributed $3,250 to Preckwinkle's campaign for board president, plus another $581.65 to cover the catering tab at a campaign event last year, campaign-finance reports show.
Laraia and Mooney also contributed to Preckwinkle's aldermanic campaigns during her 19 years on the Chicago City Council.
Preckwinkle denied that Laraia was receiving preferential treatment, instead arguing that her responsibilities would be much larger than those of her predecessor, and that she was uniquely qualified to handle the expanded job.
The proposed raise comes amid fierce budget cuts at the county level. Upon taking office, Preckwinkle asked for spending cuts from every department, including her own office, to help close the county's nearly $500 million budget deficit. Those cuts came, with some compromises, from every office, after tooth-and-nail fighting on Preckwinkle's part.