Black Women in Politics: Balancing Family and the Law

Wednesday, 05 January 2011 11:24 Written by  Sydney Corryn

The 2010 election cycle in Chicago was dominated by women. Men are no longer running the show in Illinois politics. African American women around the state are pushing for their spots as pillars in the community. Toni Preckwinkle, Robin Kelly and Toi Hutchinson are three black women who are taking steps to build up Illinois communities, restore integrity and pave the way for future leaders.

tpAfter a much expected win against Republican Roger Keats, Toni Preckwinkle, (Ald. 4th Ward) is the Cook County Board President and has plans to whip the county’s finances, jobs and health care into shape. Preckwinkle models women around the world who are balancing motherhood, married life and a booming career.


Preckwinkle was in her fifth term as 4th Ward Alderman serving parts of Kenwood and Hyde Park. As an authoritative figure in her neighborhood, the former high school history teacher has vigorously fought for more low-income housing and better education programs. In addition to holding seats on community councils, Preckwinkle is a mother to two adult children and a wife to Zeus Preckwinkle, a teacher at the Ancona Montessori School in Hyde Park.

Preckwinkle was never one to give up; she lost two aldermanic races in the 1980s but came back fierce and ready to fight. She used her setbacks as ambition to push harder for what she wanted.

At the start of the election season, she had huge obstacles to overcome. “There was criticism in the beginning because I was running against a male and he was black,” said Preckwinkle. Todd Stroger was the Cook County Board President; he took office to replace his father when he died in 2006. “Early on, businesses in the community would rally next to him because of loyalty to his father. It was very hard to raise money,” said Preckwinkle. However, Preckwinkle and her team brainstormed and were able to execute a winning plan.

“We were able to get our message out and received 50 percent of the vote in the primary,” said the veteran community leader. In the general election, Preckwinkle grabbed 69 percent of the vote claiming an early victory.

Preckwinkle is not taking her new job lightly. She is walking into an ethically broken and financially distraught county that is $487 million in debt. On her first day, almost two dozen of Stoger’s former employees went out the door. She forced officials to cut their budgets by 16 percent and consolidated departments. Preckwinkle’s biggest challenge will be restoring integrity, productivity and unity to a devastated Cook County, but her tenacity and dedication to the people drove her to succeed. k

Another woman who overcame hurdles to break color barriers is Robin Kelly, who was former chief-of staff to former Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. Kelly is also the former state representative for the 38th district, which covers the south suburbs of Chicago. She was the democratic candidate for the 2010 Illinois Treasurer. Although Kelly narrowly lost the race to Right-Wing Dan Rutherford, her trail of success will always be there. The race was a financial difficulty for Kelly, who didn’t receive donations from business partners.

I don't take money from banks, bank executives, state employees and others who do business with our office," Kelly told Mary Mitchell, columnist from the Chicago Sun-Times. “Resources have always been an issue,” said Kelly. She was appointed Cook County’s Chief Administrative Officer in late December 2010.


The 40th District Illinois Senator Toi Hutchinson fights for better education, job creation and public safety. Hutchinson balances her time as a wife, senator and mother of three school-aged children. Hutchinson recently beat 24-year-old Adam Baumgartner with 54 percent of the vote in the 2010 race.

As senator of Bloom Township and parts of Will, Kankakee and Iroquois Counties, she understands the importance of top-notch school systems with excellent teachers to match. toi

Whenever I talk to young African American girls, I’m heartened to hear all the things that they say they want to be when they grow up,” said Hutchison, whose district is 25 percent black. “When I tell them that I’m their senator, I know that they’ve realized that when they grow up, they can be a senator too. By fighting for improvements in public education, implementing after school programs and supporting improved child nutrition initiatives, I’m working hard to make sure that those girls’ futures are brighter and better,” said Hutchison, who is also involved with the Council of Women Legislators (COWL).


Hutchinson has been a lifelong resident of the south suburbs. She now resides in Olympia Fields, Ill. Although she has not fled far from the nest, she had to prove herself. In 2004, Hutchinson lost the race as Bloom Township Supervisor. Not to be stopped, the University of Illinois-Champaign graduate went on to become the chief-of-staff for Senator Debbie Halvorson. A few short years later, Halverson, who become a Congresswoman, appointed Hutchinson state senator of the 40th district.

Hutchinson added, I feel that myself, and the many other female public servants, can pave the way for future minority and female leaders by showing that female leadership does result in broad benefits and improved circumstances.”

Black women are a strong and vital part of our growing social ecosystem. We have a courageous strength because our fights are twice as hard. African American women need to take a more prominent role in our neighborhoods, meaning if we want to become somebody, nothing should hold us back from obtaining our destiny. Our ambitions should drive our daily lives and each day we should work toward something. We often let past challenges or enemies prevent us from achieving our goals. As a race, we cannot let children, insecurities or fear slow us down. We don’t have eternity to realize our dreams. While black women are on this earth, we should take it upon ourselves to overcome and leave a great legacy.

Sydney Corryn

Sydney Corryn

Sydney Corryn is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a degree in journalism. Her interests range from socioeconomic problems, culture, traveling, dysfunctional political campaigns, and of course, Chicago's nightlife. She hopes to use her communication skills and passion for community issues to create a career for herself.  She will be teaching English in Chile for six months starting the end of June, 2012.

Sydney can be contacted at Sydney@glossmagazineonline or