Chicago area politician Toni Preckwinkle apologizes after saying President Ronald Reagan has 'a special place in hell'

11:28 AM, Aug 24, 2012   |    comments
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle
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CHICAGO (CBS) - Chicago area Republicans were going after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Wednesday, for her controversial comments about former President Ronald Reagan.

On Tuesday, while speaking at a conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Preckwinkle said Reagan deserves "a special place in hell" for his role in the war on drugs.

Her office later issued an apology for that comment.

"I regret my earlier comment regarding former President Ronald Reagan. I have been outspoken on the failure of the War on Drugs to end illegal drug use or sales in this country. However, this is too complicated to lay all of it out on President Reagan's doorstep and inflammatory language only distracts from the larger issue," Preckwinkle said in a written statement.

Our sister station CBS 2 reports, at a public appearance on Wednesday, Preckwinkle again expressed her regret for her comment about Reagan, but said she's not backing down on her longtime criticism of the war on drugs.

The controversy over her Reagan remark overshadowed a ground-breaking at the Oak Forest Health Center, so Preckwinkle knew she had to address the issue again.

"I think the remarks that I made were inflammatory, and I regret them, but I ... haven't changed my conviction that the war on drugs is a failure," Preckwinkle said.

Reagan is the patron saint of the Republican Party - especially in Illinois, where he was born and raised - and Illinois Republicans have blasted Preckwinkle for her slam on Reagan.

"We all knew that the Chicago Democrat Machine was capable of being the most ruthless and negative campaign operation in the country," Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady said. "President [Barack] Obama and his political advisors were all trained in Chicago, but remarks made Tuesday by Cook County Board President Democrat Toni Preckwinkle reached a new low."

Sources close to Preckwinkle said she thought her comments yesterday were off the record, but she made no excuses for what she said.

"There were press people in the room, and anytime there are press people in the room, you should be careful what you say," she said Wednesday.

What's been lost is her criticism of the war on drugs - that drug treatment for addicts would be more effective than locking them up.

"Instead of dealing with this issue as a public health crisis - which is what it is - we've dealt with it as a criminal justice issue, and I think that's a terrible mistake. And I'm going to continue to speak out on that issue," Preckwinkle said.

In an editorial on Wednesday, the Chicago Sun-Times said, while it agrees Reagan "took too much of a punitive law enforcement approach, rather than a public health approach" on drug use, the newspaper also criticized Preckwinkle for "condemning" Reagan for his approach.

Preckwinkle's comments surprised many, because - although she's been a longtime critic of the war on drugs - she's usually very measured in her public statements.

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