Toni Preckwinkle Visits NEIU

The Persian dinner that followed Preckwinkles speech and panel discussion.
The Persian dinner that followed Preckwinkle’s speech and panel discussion.
Ananth Prabhu

Cook County Board of Commissioners President Toni Preckwinkle, named keynote speaker for NEIU’s 9th Annual Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh Servant Leadership Lecture, shared her public service experiences throughout her 40-year career in politics.


Dr. Mateo Farzaneh, Chair of the History and Political Science departments, as well as the Mossadegh Initiative’s Principal, gave the opening. According to the pamphlet handed out, Mohammad Mossadegh was the first democratically elected prime minister of Iran; He used his position to free his nation’s petroleum industry from decades of monopoly by the British. To many surrounding countries, he was a role model who inspired them to take full ownership of their natural resources from foreign powers. In his honor, a group of Iranian-American NEIU faculty established the Mossadegh Initiative, which funds programs and scholarships for NEIU students to become responsible leaders through servant leadership. The fund also makes this annual lecture possible and the naming of CBT’s Mossadegh Hall.


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“Two reasons make our speaker a perfect choice for this lecture,” Dr. Farzaneh continued. Not only has Toni Preckwinkle dedicated most of her adult life to serving people–embodying the rightful representation of a servant leader–but it is also important for students to know that local public officials invest in their education. After an acknowledgement from Institutional Advancement Vice-President and NEIU Foundation’s Executive Director Liesl Downey, a brief introduction by Interim President Dr. Kartina Bell-Jordan, and another formal introduction by Dr. Farzaneh (“you’re not getting away from this,” Dr. Bell-Jordan joked), President Preckwinkle set foot on stage.

Dr. Farzaneh awards President Preckwinkle with a plaque and a book. To the left stand VP Downey and Interim President Bell-Jordan. To the right sit Q&A moderators Alby and Karina.
(Ananth Prabhu)


“Good afternoon,” she said in a booming voice. Introducing herself as a native of St. Paul, Minnesota and a history teacher for ten years,  Preckwinkle drew parallels between her teaching and her political career. “You have to deal with groups of often difficult people,” she said to an appreciative laugh from the audience. “You have to remain flexible in your teaching strategies … You have to try to translate complex issues or concepts into language your students can understand … [T]eaching is a collaborative process. You’ve got to work with students, parents, administrators, and community members.” 


Upon moving to Chicago for her post-secondary education, Preckwinkle became more involved in politics. She reminded everyone in the room–about 180 attendees–that they have a commitment to improving their shared communities. “Solutions to our nation’s problems won’t always originate in the capital of Washington, or city hall, or the governor’s mansion,” Preckwinkle said. “Each level of government, every sector, and every community can play a role.”  


However, Preckwinkle’s time in office was not without obstacles, such as thinly stretched public health services. Regarding this, she remarked “[Cook County Health] remains committed to a strong presence in the communities that need health care the most. We also understand the importance of health care providers and the representatives of the communities they serve.” 


To address this, Preckwinkle invested in diversifying the workforce. In her first term as President, she added “economic and community development” to four already existing public safety and public health missions. After being told there was no such role that would be responsible for seeing this mission through, she and her office worked together to create a bureau that tailors to such specifics, because “[e]vidence shows that regions of the country with the least inequity are those the most six are the most successful.” As a result, Preckwinkle used economic development to coordinate those efforts. 


In 2023,  Preckwinkle’s Office also launched the Promise Guaranteed Income Pilot Program, the goal being to “increase residents’ financial stability, economic mobility, and help to improve their overall mental and physical health.” A partnership with University of Chicago, Preckwinkle’s alma mater, aims to study the impact guaranteed income has on local communities, with respect to family support, small businesses, and how recipients generally handle the money. “We’re doing this because we know that people struggling to make ends meet don’t lack character or competence, they lack cash.” 


Preckwinkle concluded her speech to fifteen seconds of thunderous applause.


Mid-Q&A discussion with President Preckwinkle, Alby, Karina, and Dr. Salzman (order left to right).


A Q&A Panel immediately followed, led by Dr. Joshua Salzmann, Associate Professor of History, with the help of History majors Karina Oprea and Alby Joseph. In the Q&A,  Preckwinkle addressed mass migration (specifically with regards to climate change as the cause of displacement), expanded on the universal benefits of basic income, and again drew parallels to how her experience and education in history have motivated her to be a better public servant.


In separate statements to the Independent, reflecting on their experience being the event’s panelists, Alby said “it was a surprise…speaking to a big crowd let alone a very powerful person like President Preckwinkle. I learned and hope other people take away what it means to serve the community more; it’s just something that we all ought to do.”


Karina added, “being an educator and being involved in legislation is extremely important, as well as instilling that in future generations, because we are in charge of our future.”


Dr. Farzaneh concluded the event by presenting President Preckwinkle with a plaque and a book. A reception followed.

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